LET THE MAGIC BEGIN.
Some genius must have decided that American readers would be too stupid to understand J.K. Rowling’s original title for her hugely popular novel “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (1997). Anyone with the slightest interest in alchemy knows what a philosopher’s stone is… but what’s a sorcerer’s stone? A wizard with one testicle?
A boy left on a doorstep
The “Harry Potter” books were so popular that a decision was made to make movies out of each and every one of the planned seven novels – a risky decision at a time when the series wasn’t even completed. The epic story about a boy called Harry Potter begins with the orphaned child being left on the doorstep of the Dursley home. His aunt and uncle raise the boy without any affection or love because they are jealous of his parents and the boy’s genes – what Harry doesn’t know is that his parents were powerful wizards who were murdered by another sorcerer who mustn’t be named (I’ll whisper his name: Voldemort). The day comes when Harry is told by a big, bearded fellow called Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who he is and that the time has come for him to take his rightful place at Hogwarts, the academic institution where wizards are educated; Hagrid is the groundskeeper there. At Hogwarts, Harry befriends two other kids, the bookish Hermione (Emma Watson) and the eager Ron (Rupert Grint), gets a sense of just how powerful he is becoming and learns that not everyone at this mysterious place has honorable intentions.
Handsome and entertaining, this film is every bit as impressive as we have a right to expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, even if director Chris Columbus can’t quite give it a life of its own. Steve Kloves, the writer who adapted Rowling’s novel, finds himself in pretty much the same situation; Rowling seems to have made sure that he doesn’t change anything from the novel. What made Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” work so well was the artistic license he took. Kloves’s work doesn’t deviate enough from the book; there are plenty of missed opportunities here.
Never dull despite its running time
Ultimately, surrendering is easy. John Williams’s music is quite inspiring, the visual effects more than serviceable and the film is never dull despite the running time; there’s too many arresting adventures at Hogwarts for that. The unstoppable game of Quidditch and the brutal chess sequence are two irresistible nail-biters. The filmmakers also make sure we keep pondering which one of the characters is up to no good at Hogwarts, adding to the tension.
One of the prime candidates is Alan Rickman’s dour, soft-spoken professor; he’s excellent and the cast is filled with familiar British faces, perhaps in order to escape the feeling of a Hollywood blockbuster. They’re all very good, but Coltrane is specially memorable as the groundskeeper who just can’t keep a secret.
The three young leads are well cast, bringing Harry Potter and his best friends to life; kids will identify with them easily. One of the best things about the novel is the way Rowling shows how children cope with grief, learn lessons about life and figure out how to solve problems on their own. She, Kloves and Columbus know how to put that on display and keep their audience thrilled at the same time.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 2001-U.S. 152 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Heyman. Directed by Chris Columbus. Screenplay: Steve Kloves. Novel: J.K. Rowling. Music: John Williams. Production Design: Stuart Craig. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith… Alan Rickman, John Hurt, John Cleese, Julie Walters.
Trivia: Steven Spielberg reportedly considered directing the movie. Followed by seven sequels, beginning with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and a spin-off series, starting with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).
Last word: “It didn’t occur to me at the time, and it didn’t occur to me until a couple of days ago. […] I sort of had to step out of my own body and say, wow, that guy Chris Columbus actually built all the sets, he cast all the people, and that guy’s me! So it was a shocking moment. If I had a therapist I would go talk to him about it right now. It was very emotional to realize that these sets were created, all these actors were put into place and ten years later different directors are coming in and playing in that sandbox. It never really occurred to me until now that any decision we may have made on the first film could’ve been disastrous. Like all these horrific, hideous ideas that were being bandied about at the time; adding cheerleaders to Hogwarts, casting American actors and combining the first two books. Actually going against the grain and retaining a certain amount of faithfulness has enabled this series to last for eleven years and that’s enormously gratifying.” (Columbus, I Am Rogue)