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Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (2001)
(aka: Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone)
Director: Chris Columbus
review by Gary Couzens
After many millions of books sold worldwide, making J.K. Rowling the richest woman in Britain (even more than Her Majesty), her creations now appear on the big screen. There will be seven novels, of which four have been published so far. This is the first film, and number two is in production. I haven't read the book but by all accounts this film is faithful to it, the major differences being material removed to reduce the running time. (Reputedly, the makers tried to fit all of the book in, and ended up with a four-hour film. No doubt the DVD will contain the deleted scenes. If it takes four hours to film a 200-odd page novel, I don't know what will happen when they film Book Four, which runs over 600 pages.)
The film begins with a young baby being left with the Dursley family in Little Whinging, Surrey. This is Harry Potter, whose parents have been killed by the evil Voldemort. As Harry grows up, he is treated with disdain by his relatives, who force him to live under the stairs. But inheritance will out, and on his eleventh birthday Harry is taken by the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to Hogwarts School to train as a wizard...
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone is a film in two unequal parts. The first hour and a half is essentially exposition, with the remaining hour devoted to the plot, namely the hunt for the philosopher's stone of the title.
Evidently what the worldwide audience was waiting for was the book on film. In that light, the producers have made the right decisions. They've kept the story's Britishness, in cast as well as setting. (Just as well, for Rowling's fantasy lifts just as much from the English public school system as it does from various world mythologies.) And the choice of Chris Columbus makes sense. Terry Gilliam (he was considered) might have made a very interesting film but he would be too idiosyncratic: whatever he made, it wouldn't be Harry Potter. Columbus is a director of proven competence but no particular originality. Given a solid screenplay (by Steve Kloves), he restrains his tendency towards sentimental excess and concentrates on telling the story and keeping the pace up. That he does very well. As the film changes gears around the 90-minute mark, from exposition to plot, it slows down for a while but soon picks up again. The running time of 152 minutes is unusually long for a family film, but Harry Potter sustains itself very well and it delivers.
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