May 21, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)


I saw Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone three times in theatres when it was released. I was eleven years old (the same age as Harry), I had read all the books that had been published up to that point and I was absolutely mesmerized. Even my parents were. In fact, they were the ones who insisted on seeing the movie again and again. When it was released on DVD, you bet we bought it. No question that we're pretty far away from me getting my dad to take my sister and I to go see Pokémon: The First Movie.

Anyway, adapting a series of books that already has a large following is a big deal. Obviously it was a following that would get even bigger, but it's always difficult to please everyone. One thing that I'm sure set Harry Potter up for success though was the fact that J.K. Rowling became very involved in the production of the film, such as insisting that all the cast be either English or Irish. She was not about to let Warner Brothers or Chris Columbus control everything. An animated Spielberg-directed film with Harry voiced by Haley Joel Osment anyone? Didn't think so.

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At a Glance


Genre: adventure, family, fantasy
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Produced by: David Heyman, Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, etc.
Written by: Steve Kloves
Music by: John Williams
Running time: 152 minutes
Production company: Warner Bros., Heyday Films, 1492 Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros., Edko Films, Twentieth Century Fox, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Language: English
Budget: $125,000,000
Box office: $974,755,371 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Chris Rankin, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Matthew Lewis, Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman, Devon Murray, Alfred Enoch, David Bradley, Luke Youngblood, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville

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Synopsis


Following the death of his parents, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is left to be raised by his aunt (Fiona Shaw) and uncle (Richard Griffiths) in Surrey, England. Compared to his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), Harry is severely neglected. While Dudley is fawned over and gets whatever he wants, Harry sleeps in a closet and is quickly punished if he steps out of line. When Harry receives a letter in the mail from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his life changes forever.



Review


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a 223 page book, but the movie still manages to fit in mostly everything. Things are cut here and there which is to be expected, but nothing of importance has been lost. Some scenes do at times feel a bit rushed though, but that's to be expected too. Steve Kloves' script is pretty much a straight adaptation with little to no deviations found anywhere. I got no problem with that personally, but there's no doubt however that HPatPS is just a little bit by the numbers. Chris Columbus plays it safe and he keeps this first film of the franchise firmly in family territory. 

If you boil everything down, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is about Harry finding himself and moving past the death of his parents. In that regard, I think the film is a success. Harry is easy to sympathize with since like him, the audience is being introduced to a whole new world. From building friendships to overcoming the many humps that exist in the magical world, parents have every reason to show their kids HPatPS. Unless of course they see it as promotion for witchcraft, but that's a whole other debate.

Now getting to the film itself, Chris Columbus and his team have truly outdone themselves. The sets and costumes of Philosopher's Stone are simply stunning. Once Harry and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) arrive in Diagon Alley, you just know by that point that you're in for something special. Take the Hogwarts Castle which is rich in detail to the inch. I could easily go on and on about how great everything looks. 

Overall, the effects have also aged quite well. The Quidditch game is one of my favourite parts of the movie and there are many other examples of good CGI throughout. There are some weaknesses from time to time, but that's no surprise when we're talking about a movie that is now fourteen years old. The troll is probably one of the weakest examples of special effects in the film, but it is what it is. I don't even like him design-wise. There's enough elsewhere to make up for it though.

Acting-wise, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson do at times show their inexperience. In no way do they ruin the movie though and no one could ask for a better supporting cast. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, John Cleese, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Julie Walters...what more do you want? Radcliffe, Grint and Watson do get better later on of course and no actor could be luckier than them with all that wealth of experience surrounding them.

I've seen HPatPS quite a few times now, enough to be able to quote most of it without too much thought let's say. Just like anyone who's grown up on Harry Potter like I have, I've got my favourite scenes like Quidditch, the first potions class with Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) as well as the thrilling wizard's chess game. Despite all the re-watches, there's enough in here that I still feel something for the more poignant scenes and for the more thrilling scenes.


HPatPS wear its heart on its sleeve. There's just no mistaking it for a Chris Columbus movie and it does feel a little too safe in comparison to later Harry Potter films. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first of a huge franchise though and it wasn't necessarily the time to take big risks. I can understand that and there's certainly enough here to charm children and adults alike. HPatPS is a necessary stepping stone and it's a movie that will always hold a special place in my movie collection as one of the biggest movie events of my childhood.

Rating

7/10

Related Reviews:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) 
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) 
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)