The "Harry Potter" phenomenon that has swept over much of the world is, indeed, a positive one. In what is a planned seven-part series of books, writer J.K. Rowling, along with her limitless imagination, has achieved in getting the old and young alike interested once again in reading.
Based on the first book of the same name, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" could have displeased fans of Rowling's creation and isolated newbies to the world of Harry Potter had it not been given just the right treatment. Adapting a beloved novel into a mass-marketed motion picture is a, no doubt, tricky opposition, and the chances of failure over success are decidedly greater because of it.
In the hands of screenwriter Steve Kloves (2000's "Wonder Boys
") and director Chris Columbus (1999's "Bicentennial Man
"), "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" has beaten the odds to become a loving adaptation that remains faithful to the source material. In attempting to include the majority of plot points in the written story, the film runs over two-and-a-half hours, but is so entertaining that it feels much shorter.
Following the unfortunate deaths of his parents, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has been raised by his selfish aunt (Fiona Shaw) and uncle (Richard Griffiths) in modern-day England, on Privet Drive. With his guardians clearly favoring their own child, Dudley (Harry Melling), Harry is mostly left to live underneath the staircase of their quaint, rural home. On Harry's 11th birthday, he is visited by Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who has come to take him to the exclusive Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he will fulfill his calling as a talented wizard.
When Harry arrives at Hogwarts, he is promptly placed in the Gryffindor class, where he becomes good friends with two classmatesthe precocious Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and "A" student Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)and finds an adversary in mischievous bully Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). As the school year presses on, Harry is selected as a member of the Quidditch team (a hybrid of basketball and baseball carried out on broomsticks), and finds himself embroiled in a mystery involving a powerful sorcerer's stone and a magical mirror that seemingly links back to the murders of his parents.
As is usually the case with book-to-film adaptations, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is far from a perfect movie. There are certain setpieces, such as a confrontation with a giant troll, that fail to work to their full potential due to some phony CGI effects and uneven editing. In setting up the series' vast array of people and settings, there is little story to speak of until the last hour, suggesting that further installments will feature more complex conflicts and developed characters. And with very few scenes actually taking place in the classrooms of Hogwarts, the film does not believably represent the passing of an entire school year, feeling more as if it takes place over about a month.
All of this taken into account, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" has what it takes to become a modern family film classic. Never less than creative and beautifully crafted by director Chris Columbus, it is a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker that he never once allows the proceedings to grow tedious or dull, even when not much in the way of a plot is readily visible. The elaborate production design by Stuart Craig (2000's "The Legend of Bagger Vance
"), and the cinematography by John Seale (2000's "The Perfect Storm
"), are gorgeously represented, vibrantly bringing the whimsical world of Harry Potter to life.
More or less a fantasy-based slice-of-life/character study of the title hero, Daniel Radcliffe (2001's "The Tailor of Panama") nicely fits the demanding role of Harry Potter. He is somewhat bland in comparison to everyone else around him, but this seems to have been done on purpose to set him up as a sort of everybody that all viewers can relate to. Rounding out the central three child roles, newcomers Rupert Grint, as Ron, and Emma Watson, as Hermione, are excellent. Grint has an innocent, funny likeability to him that is truly fetching, while Watson is easily the standout, developing Hermione into a girl who may get good grades in school, but is insecure of herself on the inside.
The adult performances consistently play second fiddle to the kids, although you can be sure they come more into play in the later books. Robbie Coltrane (2001's "From Hell
") warmly plays gentle giant Hagrid; Maggie Smith (1999's "Tea with Mussolini") is earnest, but stern, Professor/Headmistress Minerva McGonagall; Alan Rickman (1999's "Dogma
") is Professor of Potions Severus Snape; Zoe Wanamaker (1997's "Swept from the Sea") is offbeat and appealing as Professor/Quidditch Coach Madame Hooch; Richard Harris (2000's "Gladiator
") is Headmaster Albus Dumbledore; and Richard Griffiths (1999's "Sleepy Hollow
") and Fiona Shaw (1998's "The Avengers") are Harry's Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley. Making virtual cameos are John Cleese (2001's "Rat Race
"), as a nearly headless ghost, and Julie Walters (2000's "Billy Elliot"), as Ron's mother.
The centerpiece of the picture the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin has been compared to the pod race in 1999's "Star WarsEpisode 1: The Phantom Menace
," but they aren't really very similar, aside from being exciting examples of tight pacing and invigorating visual effects. A climactic chess game with huge, deadly pawn pieces racks up the suspense, doing so with little physical action. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a well-made, always enjoyable introduction to the series that, nonetheless, will likely find its groove with the second film, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," due out in 2002. One thing is for sure: I'm already anxiously awaiting the further adventures of Harry Potter on the big screen.