Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) Review

Halfway through “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” I stopped and looked at my notes. I wasn’t being too kind to Harry and it looked as if it was going to end up with a fairly average score. At this halfway point however I did realise that my framework for quality was overly rigid, and essentially what I was looking for in Harry Potter were the same sort of things I would look for in “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca”. I realise now that “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, should be judged on it’s own merits and what it actually accomplishes. After all, it would be ridiculous to compare “The Goonies'” with “Gone With the Wind”. Though that shouldn’t under any circumstances detract from either films greatness, or lack thereof.

J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series has become a phenomenon since the books initial release and as a result sitting here and divulging unto you the plot would be a waste of mine and your time. Needless to say, the lightning scarred and baggy trousered Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is heading to Hogwarts for the first time and he will meet new friends in the form of Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and we will see him face the horrors that wait within the mysterious wizarding world. Namely, the now infamous Lord Voldemort. The world hidden from muggle (Non-magic folk) view that all of its most interesting characters inhabit is rich with nuances that make it feel absurd and unique. I find myself craving most the taste of a real Bertie Bott’s every flavour bean, its been a dream of mine since I first began to ingest the mush my parents would feed me before I could walk. Figured if I couldn’t run away I wouldn’t mind, they thought wrong.

I’m inclined to call the Harry Potter series, at this stage, a much much lighter version of “The Lord of the Rings”. Its an epic franchise filled with a huge number of colourful and interesting characters, set within a fantastical world that has incredible vision and inherent tangibility. I find it impossible to imagine this not being something any member of the current generation would show to their children just as rite of passage. Who doesn’t love Emma Watson’s perfect overacting as Hermione Granger, or Robbie Coltrane’s intensely lovable performance as the less-than-tight-lipped Hagrid. There are even a few standouts, such as Rupert Grint with his charisma and boyish stupidity. Alan Rickman also shows himself to be the perfect choice for the disconcerting professor Snape, who’s motives are always shrouded in some dark mystery hinted towards with the way he hangs onto every word being fully aware of how he terrifies the students, and lavishing it.

It’s fascinating how quickly Chris Colombus moves through the story, you kind of don’t realise how fast he’s going. I like that he realises that we don’t actually want to see Harry Potter stuck with his “family” the Dursleys of Privet Drive for very long. Though, it would have been nice if the mystery behind who Harry is and what happened to his parents was kept under wraps for a little longer. That said I do appreciate the films willingness to get moving and I can certainly say that it would take genuine skill to find yourself wishing that it would just move a little faster. As a result of it’s almost clockwork approach to reaching each essential plot point of the book at an acceptable run time (of around 2 and a half hours) does lend itself to feeling like a grand adventure. The story actually takes place over an entire school year but it never ever feels that way. Colombus should be commended for how well he has managed to adapt a book into a movie without it feeling barebones or overlong, a balance is struck and I can certainly appreciate that.

While watching, it’s impossible to ignore the unfortunate over-use of Computer Generated Imagery. Unlike other movies coming out at this time that use CGI (Spider-Man) Harry Potter doesn’t use any of the trickery that these films use. You’ll notice in “Spider-Man” and perhaps more significantly “Jurassic Park”, which was of course the first movie to ever use CGI, that whatever was being animated would often be kept in the dark, at a significant distance from the camera or just be moving too fast for you to be able to clearly see the subjects true colours. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” turns characters into cartoons and allows you to see them clear as day. It removes the suspension of disbelief that is really essential for a movie with live chocolate frogs and banks run by goblins.
I’ll also admit that I did enjoy Emma Watson’s acting for Hermione despite the feeling that it might be the only role she was made for, Daniel Radclifffe as Harry Potter is another story. I feel  Radcliffe had one of the most successful spurts on film ever only because his face is arranged in a certain way and his hair is black. He looks the part but he is incredibly limited with what he can do with his perfectly arranged Potter-like face. I’d go as far as to say he feels like a side character especially when surrounded by what is essentially a talent show for British actors.

“Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” are our modern day “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones”. As a starter into the world of Harry Potter, for younger audiences especially, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is almost unparalleled and I look forward to the children growing up that will hopefully also buy into the myths that left a mark on us when we were kids.

I would have preferred it if the mark was shaped like a bolt of lightning… but I’ll take what I can get.


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