Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone


Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by:Steven Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Alan Rickman
Released: November 29, 2001
Grade: B ¾  (that’s a B+ in Muggle terminology)

Harry Potter.  A name impossible to ignore.  This first film, an adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel, is special in that you know even before you see it, that it will forever be known as a classic.

Played by 11-year-old newcomer Daniel Radcliffe, Harry’s story begins in great contrast from how it ends.  Believing his parents died in a car accident when he was a baby, Harry has lived with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and their son Dudley ever since.  All three are inordinately cruel towards him - he’s given shabby clothes, little food and often locked in a small cupboard beneath the stairs.

Resolved to an upbringing of misery, a mysterious letter arrives.  Despite Uncle Vernon’s fierce intention on keeping it from him, the time has come and Harry’s life is about to change.  With the guidance of a giant named Hagrid (Coltrane) who suddenly arrives on their doorstep, he discovers a most important secret - that he, Harry Potter, is a wizard.  And not just any old wizard.  Eleven years ago, his parents were killed by an evil wizard name Voldemort but his powers backfired when attempting to kill Harry and he was never heard from again.  Harry became known as “the boy who lived.”

Escorted by Hagrid, Harry is taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he is to be taught the arts of magic.  En route he meets and forms friendships with fellow classmates Ron (Grint) and Hermoine (Watson).  At school, Harry’s past unwillingly brings him much attention but not everyone is a fan and not everyone can be trusted.  There are those who wish to bring power back to Voldemort and the Dark Arts...

The accepted truth of any book adaptation is that the film will always seem inferior.  Harry Potter is no exception.  In staying loyal to Rowling’s writings, screenwriter Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) has shown little creativity.  Watching the film is like checking off in your mind each event as it happens.

Additionally, the humour of the book doesn’t come through on screen.  Kloves and director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) have treated the material too seriously.  It’s the light-heartedness of the novels that I believe make them so enjoyable.  In the film, no time was given to the magic lessons which in the book were always the subject of mayhem, mischief and important discoveries.

Aside from Harry, Ron and Hermoine, characters were not developed.  Professor Snape (played brilliantly by Alan Rickman) is hardly seen and yet he is so important to the story.  It’s as if we are expected to have read the book and know the characters to understand their history.  Snape hates Harry but we’re not shown the degree of hatred or the reason behind it.  Student Draco Malfoy is also an enemy of Harry but says hardly a peep.  Columbus seems more obsessed with close-ups of his smirking face to get the impression across.

Radcliffe, Grint and Watson deliver performances expected of their age.  Their personalities purely match their respective characters but all three struggle with dialogue and lack spontaneity.  Some of their later scenes are near laughable (particularly those from the chess board scene).

Whilst I initially sound negative towards the film, this is not the case.  Every aspect of the production itself deserves high praise.  The dazzling sets, the beautiful costumes, and the imposing film score are all the work of innovative professionals.  The best scene of the film, that of the Quidditch match, showcases this talent. 

Despite the film’s 152 minute duration, Harry Potter will keep your attention thanks to a quick pace.  I’m sure kids will instantly love it but the aspects of the novel that gave it equal appeal to adults are absent.  All the correct ingredients went into the pot but somehow the magic went missing...