Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's
Stone (Philosopher's Stone For Our Friends in the U.K.)
Radcliffe. Rupert Grint. Emma Watson. After today, these will be the
three most famous children on the face of the Earth. They may be better
known as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And luckily for them, after seeing
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, nobody could
have done it better.
But the real question
on everyone's minds as they wait for the lights to go down is this:
Is it as good as the book?
Perhaps not. But
only because Chris Columbus' adaptation serves as an abridgement of
the novel, so faithful is it to the source material. Every fan of the
book will find some favorite bit of business cut from the narrative,
but what remains still carries enough charm to make up for it.
To be fair, the
first book is also the most awkward of the four so far, being more episodic
in nature. Author J.K. Rowling, a great storyteller, had all the pieces
when she wrote the first one, but had not yet learned how to blend them
into a smooth whole. As a result, both book and movie feel a little
bit jerky at times, especially when introducing ancillary characters.
A braver filmmaker might have tried to fix these flaws.
He would have been
foolish to try.
has let those awkward moments help paint Harry's world. We have to stop
and understand why no one has a problem with ghosts running around the
castle, even if it does make for an obvious bit of exposition. Later
on in the film these same ghosts, led by John Cleese, serve to add cool
ambience. Like the first year students at Hogwarts Academy, we need
a tour first, so rich is the environment Rowling created.
it at a stately pace, lingering on setpieces because, well, kids watching
this movie will be glad he did. Every place is richly detailed, and
as a result, Warner Brothers really ought to consider building Harry
Potter areas at their amusement parks. Diagon Alley begs for a longer
A few choices do
hurt a little, mostly made in a slavish observation of set up and payoff.
Though Professor Flitwick's (Warwick Davis) Levitation Class will help
the kids get out of trouble, it costs us seeing Professor Quirrel (Ian
Hart) in action. As a result, this crucial character ends up being a
cipher to us, though Hart does what he can by playing up a stutter.
And it may be nitpicky, but it is odd that the symbol of the film for
so many months in advance, the snowy white owl Hedwig, never actually
has her name mentioned anywhere. Nor do we see Harry bond with her.
But the major incidents
remain, in all their glory. Ever wondered how a Quidditch match would
really look? See the movie. If anything, the movie makes things even
bigger than in the minds' eye.
It helps that Columbus
has assembled a note perfect cast. As the faculty of Hogwarts, every
teacher looks and acts as we might imagine from reading the book. Alan
Rickman seems a little old to be Snape, but he makes up for it with
a slow sinuating tone that drips with menace. And forget about the kids
having this follow their careers: from now on, Robbie Coltrane is
Carrying the title
role on his shoulders, 11-year-old Radcliffe manages to be fairly relaxed
and natural. If any moments come across falsely, they are in unnecessary
reaction shots. (Particularly during the Quidditch match - many adults
falter when having to react to the blue screen.)
The effects work
(farmed out to a variety of shops) do have an uneven feel. Shrek would
have been more believable in the girls' bathroom than the mountain troll
that does appear. But whichever shop created the CGI stunt doubles for
the kids did an impressive job. We're not yet at photo-realism for these
things, but this is the closest you'll get without making them Jar-Jar
John Williams contributes
an appropriately magical-sounding score, though he borrows way too heavily
from his Star Wars work. That may bother some, especially when
he uses the same instruments. Hagrid plays a little air on a flute that
sounds suspiciously like Luke deciding to leave Tatooine.
So you can skip
buying the soundtrack. You still need to see the movie. And then read
the book. If you've already read the book, read it again.
What's It Worth?
$8 -- what's that in Wizard money?
of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets