Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Movie Review

The year 2001 has been a banner year for fantasy novels turned event films. Both well-known book series, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have been adapted from their print form into much-anticipated movies, each one with legions of fans waiting to pay any price to see them. Of the two, Rings is clearly the better movie, since it shows the lavish attention given to it by director Peter Jackson in every single frame. Harry Potter’s rushed transformation from book to movie has been well-documented, and this might explain why the movie, with a big Hollywood budget (supposedly over $100 million) has such shoddy special effects, especially when compared to Rings’.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a successful series of books by J.K. Rowling about a boy wizard, Harry Potter, whose parents are killed when he is just a newborn. An orphaned Harry Potter is sent to live with his aunt, her husband, and their child. Flash forward 11 years, and Harry is a prisoner of his aunt, who stuffs him away in a closet underneath the stairs and lavishes praise and attention on her spoiled son, all the while ignoring Harry. In fact, Harry is the household’s servant and cook, and neither the aunt nor the uncle hesitates to verbally and physically abuse the boy on a whim. In a word, life is hell for poor Harry.

Then one day Hagrid, a giant, appears and informs Harry that he’s a wizard and that he’s been invited to attend a wizard school called Hogwarts. Finally saved from his miserable existence, Harry heads off to Hogwarts to accept his destiny. Apparently Harry is famous because the man who killed his parents had tried to kill him, but failed. Harry is the only known survivor of this evil wizard, so evil in fact people don’t dare whisper his name to this day. At the school, Harry partners up with red-haired Ron (Rupert Grint) and would-be teacher’s pet Hermione (Emma Watson). Oh, and magic stuff happens.

Is Harry Potter, the movie, as good as the book? I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never read the book, and don’t intend to anytime soon. As was the case with Lord of the Rings, I went into Harry Potter without any preconceived notions, and came out underwhelmed. Acting by the Harry Potter cast is competent, and young Daniel Radcliffe, now the envy of all children, gives a subdued, if just a tad boring, performance as Harry. Emma Watson, as the anxious Hermione, is likeable. Rupert Grint is the sidekick who gets all the funny lines. Another kid actor, whose character and real name escapes me, had the movie’s best scenes. In two notable ones, he explodes objects and blackens his face while attempting to do magic with his wand. He shows up in other scenes to give the movie some life.

As previously mentioned, the special effects were very shoddy. In particular, the many sequences with kids flying on brooms were poorly done, making me wonder if that $100 million dollar budget was spent on something other than the movie. Another sequence with a giant troll who invades the school is also very badly done. Scenes that involves CGI (computer-generated images) are simply too apparent and easily recognizable as not being real. On more than one occasion the filmmakers, and director Chris Columbus, uses a completely CGI Harry Potter, and the results are “images” that looks less real than the arcade game playing in my local mall. It should also be said that much of the special effects in Harry Potter are standard effects that have been done hundreds of times, and thus doesn’t “wow.”

The pacing of Harry Potter also leaves a lot to be desired. Once Harry arrives at Hogwarts, we get one magic class after another, with the children being taught various tricks, from potions to spells to flying brooms. There’s also some sort of magic game involving flying brooms and throwing balls around that completely bored me senseless. The movie works in the beginning, when Harry learns about his background, and for the first 30 minutes or so at Hogwarts, the movie has that magical, enchanting feeling. The biggest problem is that Harry Potter is over 2 and a half hours long! That means the “magical” feeling that you get from seeing Hogwarts’ many castles and towers will quickly fade. When that happens, the movie (and the book, I suppose), throws in a plot about the sorcerer’s stone of the title. By the time the movie is over, I began to wonder why it took so long.

Harry Potter was obviously made for the millions of kids around the world who have read the books. These same kids won’t notice that the movie has less-than spectacular special effects (especially in light of its budget) and that its middle is lagging for no reason save one: to cram as many scenes from the book as possible into the movie. Why? I guess kids who’ve read the book would love seeing the translation.

Not having read the book, I just wanted a decent story. And Harry Potter is that — decent.

Chris Columbus (director) / J.K. Rowling (novel), Steven Kloves (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe …. Harry James Potter
Rupert Grint …. Ronald ‘Ron’ Weasley
Emma Watson …. Hermione Granger
Robbie Coltrane …. Rubeus Hagrid
Richard Harris …. Albus

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