Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

The Harry Potter franchise is now world-famous, but the series all began with the very first story, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  The book, written by J.K. Rowling in 1997, was quickly picked up to be made into a movie.  My 14-year-old self, who was avid fan of the books, was both excited and apprehensive; while I was thrilled to see one of my favourite books translated to a film, I was also worried about the movie adaptation being ruined by poor acting, bad script, bad direction or a mix of all three.  Thankfully, I ended up being pleased with how well the adaptation turned out.

Obviously, Sorcerer’s Stone begins with the story of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).  Harry, whom has spent his life living with his cruel relatives, the Dursleys, discovers on the night of his eleventh birthday that he is a wizard.  According to a very large half-giant and fellow wizard, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry has been accepted to the wizarding world’s most prestigious school of wizardry:Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Hagrid helps Harry escape from the Dursleys and takes him onboard the Hogwarts Express train, which takes him to the magical school.

Harry’s experience at Hogwarts is everything but average.  He does have classes, but the courses are subjects like Transfiguration or Potions, the latter of which is taught by the mysterious Professor Snape(Alan Rickman) whom apparently hates Harry.   There are sports- but they involve riding broomsticks and chasing after tiny, flying balls in a game called Quidditch.  But the oddest thing of all occurs when Harry discovers that someone at the school is up to a dark and evil plan to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone- an everlasting life crystal- and use it for nefarious reasons.  With the help of his two friends, Ron Weasley(Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Harry tries to put a stop to whomever is behind the evil plan.

The plot of the film stays pretty faithful to the book.  Screenwriter, Steve Kloves, does an excellent job of adapting Rowling’s 309 page novel into a movie; though a few small things were excluded, nothing is left out that hinders the way the story is told, nor does anything mess up the continuity of the future films.  In fact, out of the entire film series, I’d say the first two films in the series (this one and Chamber of Secrets) are the two that stay the most faithful to their novel counterparts.  Meanwhile, director Chris Colombus (who has worked on notable other “children’s” films such as The Goonies, Mrs. Doubtfireand Home Alone) and producer David Heyman, both do an amazing of translating the childlike magic and wonder of the book into the film.

Of course, the child actors play a big role in translating the feeling of the book to the film.  Before the movie’s casting, there were several rumours that the main parts would be played by well-known teenage actors (American ones at that!), so I was very pleased when I heard that the lead roles would instead be played by unknown British actors, who were the same age of Harry and his friends.  This casting choice definitely added to the authenticity of the film, but the drawback was that due to their young age and lack of professional acting credits, the acting amongst some of the younger leads is a bit unstable.

Daniel Radcliffe
(David Copperfield, December Boys, The Woman in Black) is charming and lovable as Harry, and I was instantly pleased by the fact that he looked just as Harry was described/drawn in the books, but Radcliffe’s acting is terribly shaky during some of the more serious scenes.   The same goes for Emma Watson (Ballet Shoes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whom is convincing as bookworm, Hermione, but comes off being a bit shrill during the dramatic scenes.   Probably the best of the three, and oddly with the least pre-Potter acting experience is Rupert Grint (Driving Lessons, Cherry Bomb), whom plays the character of Ron amazingly well, providing a perfect balance of comedic timing and earnest sentimentality to the role.

The adult actors definitely put out stronger performances.  The ensemble cast is made up of several well-known British actors, including Richard Harris (Camelot, Gladiator) as the infinitely wise Headmaster, Dumbledore.   Dame Maggie Smith (A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) is equally appealing as the strict, yet likeable Professor McGonagall.  Robbie Coltrane is extremely lovable as Hagrid, while Alan Rickman (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually) is the perfect love-to-hate character, as the sneaky, slimy, sarcastic Professor Snape.

Also worth noting are the film’s sets and costume designs.  Like the books, the film is set in Britain, and the film’s production took place accordingly in the UK.  Several of the sets (including Privet Drive, and Diagon Alley) were built to scale on Warner Bros.’ Leavesden Studios.   Most impressive of all, however, is Hogwarts Castle.  The filming was split between an English castle and Gloucester Cathedral, and both settings create the massive, amazingly detailed castle/school that Harry and his friends call home.  The medieval architecture and design fit in perfectly at a school full of wizards and witches.   Likewise, the wizard robes and pointy hats which make up the costumes seem like the perfect outfitting for the young wizards. The special effects don’t seem as “special” as they did when the film was first released, however.  Of course, it has been over a decade since these CGI effects were created, but the scenes of Harry and the Quidditch team flying on their broomsticks seem a lot less realistic now than they did in 2001.

Because of the un-special effects, weak acting from the child stars, and the slightly tedious runtime (the film clocks in at 125 minutes- nearly 3 hours long!), I would never classify Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as the best film in the series (stay tuned on which movie I will give that distinction to…).  However, it is a faithful adaptation of the book and perfectly captures the magic and wonder of Harry’s world.  Fans of the book and young children will love this film and despite its flaws, it’s still an extremely enjoyable movie.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbdM1db3JbY]
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