HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSPHER'S STONE
Sam North and Chris Lean review the first film in the Potter saga.
Harry Potter breaks box office records worldwide. UK £16 million,
almost doubling Star Wars Episode1 record (first three days) and in the
USA $68 million in the first three days of release.
Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Daniel
Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Warwick Davis,
Julie Walters, Ian Hart.
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Production Company: Warner Brothers Distribution
CHRIS LEAN says:
Its ok, we can all breathe a sigh of relief! The movie version of
J. K. Rowlings first Harry Potter novel is good
When plans for a film version of Rowlings massively successful childrens
story were first announced, many dissenting voices claimed that a movie
would ruin the magic of the original idea. In fact, anyone who reads Harry
Potter will know that this is a concept that absolutely begs to be placed
on to the big screen. Thankfully, and largely owing to J. K. Rowlings
close involvement with the development of the film, Warner Bros. has delivered
a movie that sticks remarkably close to the original book, both in terms
of plot and the spirit of the story.
For those who have not yet been inducted into the strange world of Harry
Potter, it tells the story of a boy who, after being orphaned as a baby,
is brought up by his cruel aunt and uncle. Little does he know that he
is in fact the son of a wizard and witch and is destined to enrol at Hogwarts
School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn about the magical arts. The
plot is surprisingly complicated and involves a whole host of extraordinary
characters, some wise, some hilariously funny and some downright evil.
However, there is a distinctively quirky quality throughout and an infectious
sense of wonder and imagination that has been very effectively transferred
onto the screen for cinema audiences.
This is, of course, a childrens film, but Harry Potter has an extraordinary
ability to bring out the child in everyone who comes across him. At the
screening that this reviewer attended, the number of grown-ups massively
outweighed the number of kids, and many of those came dressed as wizards
or had lightning shaped scars drawn on to their foreheads. The grown-up
audience loved it. I loved it, and I was there to be a critic! The target
audience will love it even more than we did.
Director Chris Columbus, who previously brought us the delights of
Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire, has probably reached the high-point
of his career with this movie. He handles the material with a sure touch
and clearly enjoys bringing to life some of the quirkiest little tit-bits
from the novel, such as the sorting hat, the moving portraits on the walls
of Hogwarts and the wacky ghosts that wander the school corridors, popping
out of walls at unexpected moments to provide extra light relief. His
visualisation of the world of Harry Potter is as close to perfect as any
fan of the books could hope for, and this is helped by some of the most
inspired casting we have seen for a long time.
The three central child characters - Harry, Ron and Hermione - are all
played with great enthusiasm by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma
Watson respectively. However, Miss Watson just wins by a nose in the acting
stakes with her hilariously precocious performance. Robbie Coltrane was
J. K. Rowlings first choice to play Rubeus Hagrid and it is a role
he seems to have been born to play. The character is essentially Robbie
Coltrane with a beard. He proves to be the most entertaining character
in the movie. Other great casting coups have placed Richard Harris in
the role of wise old Professor Dumbledore, the principal of Hogwarts,
Maggie Smith as the fuss-pot Professor McGonagall and, best of all, a
spot-on Alan Rickman as the nasty Professor Severus Snape (think Sheriff
of Nottingham with magic powers!).
While the trailers gave us a taste of what to expect, Warners have saved
some very special stuff for the movie itself. This is a film in which
mountain trolls, goblins, centaurs and even dragons appear alongside the
human actors. The highlight of the movie is the Hogwarts Quidditch
match, a game played in mid-air on broomsticks which is brought to life
in what is easily the most thrilling visual effects sequence of the year.
One of the real joys of this movie is that it is never ruled by special
effects. All the effects are there to further the story and, unlike those
in spectacular turkeys like Pearl Harbor, they are all the more
enjoyable for it. In this movie we arent simply blown-away by the
expensive visuals, we genuinely want Harry Potter to win the Quidditch
The film isnt perfect. Some parts of the story are abridged in a
clumsy manner that makes the plot slightly less coherent than it was in
the book. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel, in which Hagrid
and the children meet a group of Centaurs in the forbidden forest, is
shorn of most of its original significance. For some reason, the screenwriter
often chooses to ignore the perfectly decent dialogue that Rowling provided
in her novel and offers us something a little more bland instead. Nevertheless,
the script remains genuinely faithful to the original story and the whole
affair is injected with such an enjoyable strain of mystery and fun that
you can easily forgive the movie its imperfections.
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone has been more hyped than
practically any other movie this year. Im happy to report that,
for a change, this is a film that lives up to its own hype - just about.
It may not achieve the classic status of the book that originally inspired
it but it is completely engaging from start to finish and weaves more
than enough magic to satisfy lovers of the novel. It will definitely surpass
the expectations of kids everywhere, who will all be hollering for more.
Im not a betting man but I would be surprised if this movie didnt
rake in enough dough to warrant a high place in the top five most successful
movies ever. Whatever happens, this is certain to be VERY big. Lets
just hope Daniel Radcliffes voice doesnt break before they
shoot part two.
© Chris Lean 2001
SAM NORTH says:
Take one small boy, orphaned, of course, give him to evil stepparents
who will make him grow up under the stairs, add one incredibly smart young
girl, a hairy giant, several wizards and kindly witches, mix in some dragons
blood and a ginger nut and place on the screen for 152 minutes and simmer
Result HARRY POTTER
and the PHILOSPHERS STONE. (Sorcerer's Stone in the USA)
Judging by the kids whod dragged their parents along for the preview,
it was a resounding success. Everyone looked just right and for the curious
odd person who hasnt actually read the book, this will be a doubly
wonderful surprise to come across these characters for the first time.
It was great to hear eight year olds turning to bewildered fathers at
the end of the film and saying Did you understand it? Then
going into wonderful lengthy explanations about life at Hogwarts. (Harrys
wizard school) If there was any complaint about the long running screen
time is was that it wasnt long enough and to be honest, so much
has been left out. But that wont deter the kids coming back to see
it again and waiting anxiously for part two in a years time.
The look and feel was just right, but perhaps Chris Columbus the director
played it just too safe, the film lacked any menace that truly does exist
in the book. Thankfully there were not too much of the Dursleys at the
beginning, but one missed the crying ghost in the loo, the suspicions
and nightmarish atmosphere that is often present in J.K. Rowlings
books. Other little things seem to be missing as well, the awkwardness
of remembering passwords to get back into the dorms after sneaking out,
the difficult lessons, the strange quirky teachers, the day to day school
life. In this film Harry Potter doesnt really do any magic (other
than fly) and quite the funniest moments are when the teaching goes wrong
and things explode. The Quidditch match was spectacular and the flying
fun, but you never really felt the danger. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm
was quite believable and one worries about many kids trying to copy them
from bedroom windows.
Hagrid is huge and that is pretty good considering we know Robbie Coltrane
isnt a giant. Hagrid is used as a plot steamroller. Anytime Harry
and his pals Don (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) dont
know anything Hagrid lets the cat out of the bag ( Oh dear, I shouldnt
have said that
) becomes the films catch phrase, but detracts from
the detection that was present in the book. J.K Rowlings vision
has been respected but the result (from an adults perspective is rather
anodyne). She has got her British cast and they do everything that is
required of them. Prof Snape is truly sinister (Alan Rickman with his
custom sneer) Richard Harris is well, himself , Maggie Smith is born to
play schoolmarms, John Cleese is completely wasted as a ghost and there
is none of the interaction with the ghosts that there is in the books.
I realise that these are quibbles and how could you fit everything into
the film that was in the book. Just how long will the fourth Harry Potter
film be if this one is two and half hours?
The film is very British prep school, very much Tom Brown meets Scooby
Doo and it is fun and one thing is absolutely certain, Emma Watson
as Hermione steals the film. She is funny and bright in contrast to Harry
who looks right is personable, but lacks character somehow. Ron, his best
pal is quite convincing, but Daniel Radcliffe isnt really allowed
to suffer or react or cry or cramp up, in short he might be special but
he doesnt feel anything. The moment when he confronts Voldmort who
has killed a Unicorn and sucked its blood to stay alive should be
earth shattering for him and us. But Chris Columbus backs off and it becomes
bland with the Centaur explaining too much. Better to have let Harry see
how cruel his new world really is and worry about frightening the kids
in the multiplex later. The tragic moment of the mothers death in
Bambi lives with you forever, Harry Potter shies away from pain and more's
Why take it all so seriously? Well because, readers, just like the writer
J.K. Rowling, are very protective of the books and characters they like
and I am no different. I wanted a darker Potter movie, but Ill accept
the one I have. It is sad too that once again we have a British story,
wonderful British cast, filmed in Gloucestershire but with American money.
Have we no guts at all? Can't our film financiers see a good thing when
it bangs them on the head? Harry Potter is likely to generate billions
of dollars and it will all go back to Hollywood. Our considerable loss.
Christ Columbus has given us a seamless, energetic movie that will be
critic proof and you will go to see it, but it you want something darker,
a little more edgy look across to the other side of the multiplex this
weekend and see Ghost
World starring Thora Birch
'oh I shouldnt
have told you that.
© Sam North
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