Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4
For the many, many fans of the novel "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone," the main question about the highly anticipated movie is "Were
the filmmakers true to the book?" The answer is that they were true to a
fault. "Harry Potter" is a rich, wildly imaginative movie with enough
old-school Brothers Grimm bite to keep it from becoming saccharine. The
sets and situations are grand and wondrous, but the powers that be, in
their zeal to include as much from the book as is humanly possible, have
overstuffed the film almost to the breaking point.
During the first half of its mammoth 153 minutes, the production is so
busy hopping from one vignette, secondary storyline or character
introduction to another that it doesn't have time to address the
plotline of its title. When it finally does, it does so breathlessly,
often forgetting to take a moment or two to drink in the wonder. I
suspect that future editions of the series will be more sound, now that
the laborious groundwork has been laid.
Incidentally, please don't mistake my complaints about "Harry Potter and
the Sorcerer's Stone" as anything approaching condemnation. Even with
its flaws, this is still an extremely entertaining piece of work that
deserves the massive audience it surely will attract.
Thankfully, for every misstep, the filmmakers do a great deal right.
First off, there is no attempt to Americanize the thoroughly British
tale. The sensibilities are as British as the cast, which includes a
veritable laundry list of beloved U.K. actors. The three young lead
players, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, are also
English. As Harry Potter, Radcliffe is appropriately earnest and heroic.
In the roles of his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley,
Watson and Grint have some problems with their delivery, but they get
the nature of their characters right.
For 11-year old Harry Potter, the opportunity to attend the Hogwarts
School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a godsend. Reared in horrible
conditions by his aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths)
after the death of his parents (they were murdered by an evil wizard,
but Harry was told they died in an accident), the boy is only too eager
for a fresh start, which begins for him at train station, specifically
at platform 9 ¾.
Once he finds the entrance, he slides into a world where the impossible
is the norm, provided you know the right incantation. With 9-foot Hagrid
(Robbie Coltrane, sporting a body-length Afro) serving as his mentor,
Harry visits a bank staffed with ornery goblins. Harry eyes the
trendiest magic wands in a neighboring store window before heading off
Oh, what a facility it is. Massive, handsome and vaguely threatening,
the sprawling estate boasts hundreds of students, overseen by Headmaster
Dumbledore (Richard Harris), the prime but understanding Professor
McGonagall (Maggie Smith), sinister Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and a
host of others.
We get an extended look at Harry's first game of Quidditch, a thrilling
sport involving 50-foot golden goalposts, a variety of balls and student
athletes zooming through the air on their broomsticks trying to score
goals. We also get quick glimpses of numerous characters who will get
more screentime in subsequent films.
Just as the parade of vignettes begins to grow tiresome, the central
plot kicks in. The Sorcerer's Stone is in danger of being stolen by the
evil Voldemort, who is manipulating one of the professors to do his
bidding. Can Harry and his new friends Hermoine and Ron save the stone
and the school without getting in trouble for being in an unauthorized
area? Or will they be distracted by the angry troll in the girls'
bathroom, the chocolate frog that keeps leaping out of its box, the
giant three-headed dog or the majestic stairways, which periodically
move from one location to another?
If this sounds appealing, but extremely jumbled, then you know what to
expect. Potter veterans (and with book sales of over 100 million, there
are a lot of them) will have no trouble keeping up, of course. For
everyone else, I suggest you dive in and hang on, secure in the
knowledge that all will become clear in the next film, "Harry Potter and
the Sequel That Doesn't Bite Off More than It Can Chew."
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott