Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Stars:   Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart
Director:   Chris Columbus
Writer:   Steve Kloves, from book by J.K. Rowling

Reading books are magical experiences because what you get is the unique vision of a single author translated into the unique vision of the reader. And no one person can get into another’s head to see how precisely that vision has been interpreted. Books, therefore, are very personal experiences making the reader blessed for having been awarded a one-of-a-kind interpretation. Films, on the other hand, present the visions of many people such as writer(s), director, editor, costumer, set designer and so forth. You can’t escape it, what you see is what you get. Moral of the story – don’t trade in reading for movie watching; you might miss something good.

So, did Chris Columbus and his crew translate the book correctly, I can’t say. What I can say is that this film, based on the J.K. Rowling book about a boy meant to be a wizard, presents a marvelous and magical look and feel about it. You’ll love the atmosphere of Diagon Alley, where Harry goes shopping for his wizards’ tools; the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is magnificent in its attention to medieval detail; the dining room scenes are lush with magical and culinary delights; the Dark Forest is as spooky and uninviting as anything you can imagine. Equally well presented are Fluffy the three-headed dog and Hagrid’s baby dragon. The school game of Quidditch, a kind of soccer match on flying broomsticks, is as exciting as any chase or race sequence in a Star Wars’ film. The owls, hordes of them (flocks? gaggles?) are wildly beautiful and most impressive. And finally, the soaring John Williams’ theme music is on its way to becoming a classic.

As for the acting, the threesome playing the leads of Harry (Radcliff), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) are delightful and quite believable as best pals. Even the secondary child actors fit the bill to a tee. Especially effective in the adult category is Robbie Coltrane as the half-giant Hagrid, the school’s Keeper of Keys and Grounds. He looks terrific, like a big hairy protective bear. and he’s downright fun to watch and listen to. John Hurt does a lovely turn as the wandmaster who sells Harry his first wizard’s wand. Look for a capable Maggie Smith as second-in-command, Professor McGonagall; Richard Harris is a little boring as headmaster Professor Dumbledore and Alan Rickman doesn’t quite get enough to do as the suspected fiend Professor Snape. I liked Ian Hart as the stuttering and squirrelly Professor Quirrel.

There are occasional difficulties in hearing dialogue due to accents and/or overwhelming sound. There was only one point where I felt the length of the film straining but it quickly passed.

Lotta says  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ranks as one of the year’s best for cinematic magic.

A postscript:   Harry Potter is such a hit with the kids that the Los Angeles education department declared November 16th Harry Potter Day and allowed its teachers to pull their kids out of school to go see the movie. The excuse is that they’re studying the book in literature class. Isn’t that where the kids belong … in class … studying literature? At least that’s the excuse one teacher used when I asked why the kids weren’t in school. Then I overheard the kids he was sitting with say that they hadn’t yet finished the book. Not to worry. California is already one of the states with the lowest test scores. It’s doubtful one little movie outing will lower its status further. What’s next, Cliff Notes as the official literary textbooks? If the schools want to yank kids out for “literary” reasons – do it for Shakespeare!

Reviewed: 11/16/01