Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

August 11, 2010

As much as I hate Chris Columbus movies (and I REALLY do) I don’t have a lot of complaints to make about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It does what it has to do and doesn’t get in anybody’s way. In brief:

Good enough: They pretty faithfully follows the plot of the book through all its twists and turns: Harry lives under the stairs, Hagrid knocks the door off its hinges, Hermione tells Ron he’s got dirt on his nose, they fight a troll at Halloween, Harry gets an invisibility cloak for christmas and sees his family in the mirror of Erised, they jump through the trap door and defeat the stated enchantments to get to (gasp) Quirell and then Dumbledore and Harry have a chat in the hospital wing over Every Flavor Beans.

Pretty good: All things considered they did a pretty inspired job with casting. The adult cast is wonderful:  Maggie Smith has long been my hero and she perfectly fits into my previous mental image of Professor McGonagall.  Alan Rickman is really too old to play Snape and doesn’t (in my opinion) look a thing like him but no one else could so perfectly capture his menacing drawl.  I have to approve.  And then there’s the kids.  I don’t know how the managed it but they found Harry Potter when they cast Daniel Radcliffe (especially in those early years).  Rupert Grint is a great little Ron; he’s got the goofiness, the sweetness and the constant chagrin down pat.  Hermione … well when I first saw Emma Watson in the movie nine years ago I thought they’d cast much too cute but she’s grown on me.  They never have quite managed “bushy” hair but I’ll take what I can get.  What’s really amazing though is they way the three of them have grown into pretty creditable actors and all three of them have managed to reach the age of majority without crashing an Aston Martin into a bridge abutment.   I’m SO grateful.  Sarcasm aside though, I really do adore each of them, both in the characters they’ve been playing for a decade and as potential actors in their own rights.

Bloody brilliant: The sets.  The sets, the sets, the sets.

And be grateful for it: But really I’m just grateful that this movie isn’t what it so easily could have been.  Warner Brothers orignially wanted Stephen Spielberg for the job (OK so far) but he reportedly wanted to do it as an animated film (ugh) and cast Haley Joel Osment for the voice of Harry (run screaming from the room) and, again reportedly, quit in disgust when J.K. Rowling insisted that they use an all British cast for the movie.  Then again they gave it to Chris Columbus and he didn’t completely bollix it up either … though he could have.  As evidence I merely refer the gentle reader to his recently released Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief.  Nuff said.  It could have been so awful and it wasn’t.

I wish they would have managed to convey a little more of the whimsy, mystery and even darkness that exists in the first book instead of focusing wholly on the goofy parts.  Similarly the music John Williams wrote for the first three films is cute and peppy and well executed with some beautiful themes (when he isn’t ripping himself off) but doesn’t lend a lot of gravitas to the production.  It feels too much like Halloween all the time.  But really the whole team did a lovely job of bringing a wonderful book to the screen and we should all just count our lucky stars that they did such a creditable job.

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