Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Hart
Review by Emma Hutchings
SYNOPSIS: On his 11th birthday, Harry Potter is told he is a wizard and is invited to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he discovers that a dark power is attempting to rise again, the one responsible for the death of his parents and the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Art Direction – Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Music, Original Score
Deposited on his Aunt and Uncle’s doorstep as a baby after the death of his parents, we revisit young Harry Potter aged 10 to discover he has lived a miserable life so far. He lives in a cupboard under the stairs and is badly mistreated. One day he surprisingly receives a letter but his Uncle doesn’t let him read it. This turns out to be a mistake, when, as the days go by, more and more letters arrive addressed to Harry. They are delivered by a large number of owls, who perch happily in front of the house, no doubt causing a few raised eyebrows in this little suburban neighbourhood.
The situation becomes so dire that Harry’s Uncle Vernon decides to uproot the family to a hut on a small island, hoping that will deter the sender of the letters. However, in the middle of the night, a half-giant named Hagrid bursts in and personally hands Harry his letter to read; he has been invited to study magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Leaving with Hagrid, Harry goes to Diagon Alley and withdraws some money his parents left him at Gringotts, a bank run by goblins, to purchase his supplies for school. He soon realises that in the wizarding world he is quite the celebrity.
The adult cast is a who’s who of British acting talent, giving the film an added bonus for grown-up viewers. They aren’t just clumsily thrown in either, they fit their roles perfectly. I for one can’t imagine anyone else playing Professor Snape; Alan Rickman does a brilliant job and for this film J.K. Rowling provided him with vital details of his character’s back story not revealed to readers until the final novel. As well as the main cast, there are also some big names in small roles: John Hurt plays wand-maker Mr Ollivander, John Cleese plays Nearly Headless Nick and Julie Walters plays Mrs Weasley.Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon. Understandably, the expectation for this first film in the series was huge and the pressure on the filmmakers to create a faithful adaptation for the fans was enormous. They didn’t disappoint. By February 2002 it was the second highest grossing film worldwide after Titanic. From watching the film you can tell that those involve care about telling the story. It is ideal for fans of the book who want to see their favourite scenes played out on screen.Once at Hogwarts, Harry uncovers a dark plot. The evil wizard who murdered his parents but lost his powers whilst trying to kill Harry as a child (leaving him with his scar) is attempting to restore himself to full strength. There is a valuable item he needs hidden at Hogwarts and a disciple there is determined to obtain it. Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, try to uncover the identity of this person while also trying to find out what the item is and where it is being kept so they can get to it first.
Oddly enough, I feel the film’s biggest weakness is that it is a very faithful adaptation. Although movies and books do have a close connection, they are still very different types of media and the best way to adapt a novel for the big screen isn’t necessarily to loyally translate it. Doing so means the director doesn’t use any of his own imagination or try to make his mark on the film. However, this almost certainly won’t affect children’s enjoyment and even most adult’s.
Overall, it is a very enjoyable fantasy adventure for all the family. The three child leads aren’t great (they can sometimes be seen mouthing each other’s lines, among other things) but you can tell there is potential for them to grow and develop as the films continue. And what better place to learn the art than surrounded by a vast number of talented elders in a celebrated film series that already has a huge army of fans