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Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Director: Chris Columbus

review by Amy Harlib

I may be one of the few aficionados of the SF and fantasy genre yet to read UK writer J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. It's just because the projected series spans seven volumes of which four have been published (and gracing my shelves), awaiting my idiosyncratic desire to hold off until all the instalments can be read in sequence at one go. Thus, I am not ignorant of the phenomenal appeal of this fantasy opus having followed its development with acute interest (and wondering why superior writers such as Diana Wynne Jones don't receive as much recognition, but that's another report). Aware of the premise and possessing the books without yet knowing the details and minutiae of the plots other than what can be found on the jacket copy, I approached the movie (hyped with the energy that makes it seem destined for success equal to its literary inspiration), with no preconceptions and an open mind.

Informed by publicity that the film's makers cooperated with the author to faithfully stick to the book's storyline and the creator's vision, I just have to assume this statement to be true. To this avid SF and fantasy reader and moviegoer, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (aka: Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone) makes a fine and charming (in every sense of the word), cinematic outing. The plot, centring on the eponymous protagonist played winningly by the lovable Daniel Radcliffe, appeals so hugely because it embodies everyone's ultimate wish-fulfilment - to discover one has heretofore undiscovered powers and that one's worth will thus be recognised.

From the contemporary England setting, orphaned boy Harry Potter, mistreated for 10 years by caretakers, Aunt Petunia Dursley (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths) and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), on his 11th birthday gets whisked away from the dreary world of mundane 'muggles' by Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), a giant, teddy-bear-like guy. He comes from and helps transport Harry to his true home in a parallel continuum greatly resembling ours but where magic works and otherwise mythical beings truly exist. This common conceit in fantasy fiction - of an alternate mystical world whose preternaturally gifted denizens can crossover into ordinary reality but the existence of which remains unknown to everyday folks, gets depicted well here.

Hagrid, caretaker of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry introduces Harry to this otherworldly version of the 'classic' British boarding school where he has been invited to attend and where he makes friends with the well-meaning, likable klutz Ron Weasely (Rupert Grant) and the feisty, precocious Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and stands up to the deliciously menacing Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). At Hogwart's Harry also learns to master the curriculum of sorcerous skills (involving wands, flying brooms, potions, spells and herbalism) from the eccentric array of adept instructors. In addition to enjoying the instruction from the perfectly cast faculty played by UK thespian luminaries Richard Harris (as the Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore), Ian Hart (as Professor Quirrell), Alan Rickman (as Professor Snape), Maggie Smith (as Professor McGonegall) and Warwick Davis (as Professor Flitwick), Harry embarks on his quest to discover (and eventually in the final instalment of the series, defeat), the evil wizard Voldemort (Richard Bremmer), would-be thief of the school's prize possession, the immortality-granting jewel - the Sorcerer's Stone. Voldemort killed Harry's parents while failing to do in the offspring, leaving the baby miraculously unscathed except for his well-known lightning-shaped forehead scar.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, in addition to its superb performers who perfectly embody their roles, features dazzling visuals with standouts including: the fabulously gothic, castle-like Hogwart's institution itself; the dining hall's celestial ceiling with suspended candles, then jack-o'-lanterns; the banquets at mealtimes; the invisibility cloak sequence; the Sorting Hat; Gringot's Bank staffed by gnomes (apparently Zurich doesn't have a monopoly); the life-sized, dangerous game of wizard's chess leading to the climactic confrontation with Voldemort; owls delivering mail and Harry's gorgeous white pet owl (a real live one); all too brief appearances by two lovely cats; Fluffy, the huge, three-headed Cerberus-like dog guarding the Sorceror's Stone; the hatching dragon's egg; and the troll in the girl's bathroom scene. I wish I could add the Quidditch match to the just mentioned list - it came close, but Rowling's ingeniously conceived hockey/soccer/polo game played on flying broomsticks proved so complex to visualise, that even state-of-the-art CGI couldn't make the wild melee of midair moves quite coherent but I have to give them credit for trying. Credit must also be given to the casting department for liberally sprinkling children of colour among the students of Hogwart's, especially the lovely young lady who calls the plays during the Quidditch scene, (yet leaving me wondering why all the instructors were so relentlessly Anglo given Britain's current multiracial population).

All told, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, with its excellent cinematography; wonderful sets, costumes and make-up; fine visual effects (except for the disappointingly fake-looking centaur); lush, atmospheric John Williams score; engaging characters (all the teachers deserved much bigger parts); and able scripting blending humour with a coming-of-age fantasy adventure - thoroughly enchants. Two and one half hours fly by (boding well for the inevitable sequels), and ought to bewitch all but the most incorrigible muggles.
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone

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Harry Potter sequels -
Chamber Of Secrets
Prisoner Of Azkaban

see also, a review of
Harry Potter And The
Philosopher's Stone

on Region 2 DVD

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