Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
2001, PG, 152 min. Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Ian Hart, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 16, 2001
At two and a half hours, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone runs a full hour longer than the standard kid-film length. Obviously, Chris Columbus wanted to cram in as much of J.K. Rowling's convoluted plotting as possible, and in that regard the most anticipated children's movie ever is on the money. There's very little from the book that hasn't made it to the screen in some form, and it will please both kids and Rowling's many adult fans that, for example, such supporting characters as the ghostly Nearly Headless Nick (Cleese, of Monty Python fame) and the many goblins of the Hogwarts Bank make brief but satisfying appearances. From the sets to the story to the whole tone of the film, this is an almost literal adaptation of the book, and if you're one of the two or three people who hasn't yet succumbed to Pottermania, this might just send you scurrying to the bookstore to catch up.
Radcliffe plays Harry Potter, an 11-year-old orphan who discovers that he's a wizard and has been accepted to the otherworldly Hogwarts School, where he will learn to hone and apply his unique skills. Prior to his enrollment at Hogwarts, Harry lived with his Muggle (i.e. non-magical) relations, the Dursleys, a pompous and thoroughly awful clan who so loathe the young wizard that they force him to live in the crawlspace beneath their stairs. Once at Hogwarts, however, Harry's rather dim horizons are permanently expanded, and he quickly falls into the friendly company of the precocious Hermione (Watson) and somewhat befuddled Ron Weasley (Grint). Together they uncover the secret of the titular stone and, uh, much fun is had by all.
But you already know that, don't you?
Columbus, who got his start working for that other notable director of youth filmmaking John Hughes and was thus somewhat suspect when it was announced that he was to helm the Potter adaptation, manages to capture the delicate magic of Rowling's book while simultaneously crafting a very solid piece of Hollywood filmmaking. It's the smaller touches, transposed in whole from the book, that make the film as good as it is. The owl-based mail delivery service, Hogwarts' massive dining hall with its tiers of floating candles and night-sky ceiling, and Robbie Coltrane's half-giant groundskeeper Hagrid are all employed to good effect, and crusty Richard Harris, as kindly headmaster Dumbledore, is, not surprisingly, excellent as well.
So why didn't the film electrify me like Rowling's book? On the face of it there's none of the obvious Hollywood downgrading that so often accompanies an adaptation like this, but it is what it is, I suppose, and that's an adaptation. The real punch of the story comes from the source material; I hate to say the book was better, but of course it was. Columbus' film version is fine, and it's bound to make kids happy while simultaneously generating untold box office, but if you haven't yet picked up a copy, don't let the film override the novel; set aside a weekend, dive in, and then head off to the cineplex to take in this well-done companion piece. >