Blockbuster Movie Month: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" Review

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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Rating: PG
Length: 152 minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2001
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Genre: Adventure / Family / Fantasy

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is the first film of the Potter franchise. Based off the novel of the same name by J.K. Rowling, the film tells the story of a young boy who discovers that he is a famous wizard on his 11th birthday. Leaving his ordinary life behind, Harry Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe, embarks on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn about his family heritage and to realize his potential. The film was directed by Chris Columbus, and also starred Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as fellow students who befriend Harry during his first year at Hogwarts.

Fans of the J.K. Rowling novels can rejoice over how faithfully the film adaptation of "Sorcerer's Stone" follows the book. Screenwriter Steve Kloves took all of the essential elements of the book and condensed them into a film that plays as if it leapt off the page. While many film adaptations stray significantly from their source material, it is refreshing to see such a literal interpretation of the well-known novel. Some characters from the book have been omitted from the movie, and the opening is a bit different. However, the film remains one of the most faithful novel adaptations to date.

However, there are disadvantages to being so faithful as well. There are few surprises in "Sorcerer's Stone" to anyone familiar with the book. While familiarity does not breed contempt in this case, it can make the extended running time take longer for those looking for a new twist on the Harry Potter story. The film takes its time delving into Harry Potter and Hogwarts. The deliberate pacing is important, because this film establishes the world that all the future films need to inhabit. Understanding and caring for that world and the characters in it is essential. Columbus succeeds in this endeavor, even if it takes a while for the real magic and tension to develop in the plot.

Columbus is aided by a stellar cast. Radcliffe owns the role of Harry, and people who re-read the novels are likely to picture Radcliffe's interpretation of the character in their heads as they go through the series. Hinging a film on a child actor is often a risky proposition, but Radcliffe is the right choice, and he has immediate chemistry with his co-stars. Harry begins the film as a lonely orphan who is looked after by neglectful relatives. This makes his friendship with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) mean something. The relationship between the three children makes the audience care what happens to them. This gives all the events to come gravitas and importance. Hogwarts is also filled with acting luminaries like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane. The veterans all shine here, making Hogwarts a fascinating environment filled with rich, charismatic characters.

Hogwarts also looks fantastic. Stuart Craig's production design makes the school a dark and brooding place that doesn't lose its sense of fun and mystery. The Forbidden Forrest is likewise both dangerous and enticing in appearance. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is definitely a family film, though young ones may require some comfort during the film's more intense moments. The special effects are very realistic and lifelike, becoming especially thrilling during the Quidditch matches where Harry swoops through the air on a broomstick.

This is a fantasy world that is richly realized. From the castle-like interiors of Hogwarts to the dark forest and beyond, the film truly delivers an alternate world in which audiences can lose themselves. John Williams provides a melodic score that is up there with his best work, though the score lacks a theme as iconic as "Superman" or "Jaws."

Ultimately, fans of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter are sure to enjoy "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and viewers unfamiliar with the series will not have a problem understanding what is happening or why. The deliberate pace and the long running time might be a turnoff for some, but fans of fantasy, magic or family films have a lot to like in this first chapter of the Harry Potter saga.

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is intended to be the launching pad of a franchise, and it ultimately succeeds. It establishes characters for viewers to invest in, and leaves them in a place where audiences want to see what happens next. As an individual film, this installment is slower and not as action-packed as others in the genre, but it's hard to ask for a better start to an extended cinematic journey. Taken in that context, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a rousing success that is sure to be enjoyed for many years to come.