Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) Review

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Not all its priorities are straight

Can you believe that it has been eight years and already we are on the second-to-last (third if you will, since the seventh will be split in two) chapter in the Harry Potter series? Another thing that I can’t believe is just how different the three leads are now than when they first started out. Seriously, are these kids the same brooding and hormonally charged teenagers that they have turned into? I guess this is the same feeling that parents have when they watch their kids grow up. So much innocence and bright-eyed wonder that will soon give way to much more emotional and mature issues in life. But still, this fits with the story as the audience is introduced to some extraordinary and unbelievable things just as the kids become more aware of life’s challenges.

Plot Synopsis: Harry Potter, an orphan whose parents were murdered by the dark wizard Voldemort when he was an infant, is living with his obnoxious and bullying relatives, the Dursleys. But when he receives a letter (hundreds in fact) stating that he is also a wizard and is accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he understandably jumps at the chance. Along the way, he befriends the head-smart Hermione Granger and somewhat clumsy Ron Weasley, who are enamored by the fact that he is the boy who survived and defeated Voldemort when he was just a baby. Upon arrival at the school, Harry meets several other important figures in his life, such as headmaster Dumbledore, venomous potions teacher Severus Snape, and the kind groundskeeper Hagrid. As he becomes more engrained into the wizard world though, Harry becomes aware of a plot that could restore Voldemort to full power that involves a mysterious artifact called the Sorcerer’s Stone.


Whew, this is going to be a hard review. Not because I hold the movie in exceptionally high regards (like some of the other older movies I’ve reviewed), but because I’ve seen this movie so many times since it was first released and I don’t know how to begin. I guess I could start with the sublime cast, who would only get better with each installment. Almost every actor/actress here truly embodies their character’s traits and quirks, the best being Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Alan Rickman (Snape), and Richard Harris (Dumbledore). Don’t be fooled by the top-of-the-line adult British cast though, cause the kids can hold their own against the heavyweights too. Emma Watson pulls off Hermione’s bratty attitude pitch perfectly while still being likeable, there could not have been a better choice for Ron than Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe truly is how I imagined Harry in the novels. Are there any weak links? Well, I can you for sure that Tom Felton is NOT the book Malfoy. Felton overacts every line that comes out of his mouth to the point of hilarity, compared to the calmer menace from before.


One thing for sure is that The Sorcerer’s Stone stays very faithful to the original novel. Almost every element from the book is present in the movie, with the exception of the ghost Peeves. On the one hand, this means that most of the plot is spelled out clear and simple, and the book's fans will love it. On the other hand, the non-book fans will become weary of the slow pace and may lose interest. Now, I’m someone who really likes the book, but even I agree that a few things would have been trimmed to quicken the pace. Then again, by doing this director Chris Columbus gets the tone and spirit of J.K. Rowling’s writing just right, and he brings a certain innocence to the film. Hogwarts is presented in warm colors that help to emphasize the same wonder and excitement that the students are experiencing as they discover the world's many surprises and delights. Even when things get darker and more serious by the end, the school and tone still have a whimsical feeling, in large part due to John Williams’ now iconic score. The music is, in a word, magical.

If there is one more criticism, it is that while the majority of the special effects have aged gracefully, there are a few instances that stick out as poor. The troll scene in the bathroom is the worst, with both the CGI troll and Harry looking very fake. There are also a few other bits that don’t look that good, but they don’t detract too much. The Sorcerer’s Stone hasn’t aged as well as the later entries, but it is still a well-made, entertaining, and promising kick-off to the series.


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