Monday, May 30, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - The Magic Begins!

In 1997 in the UK, a book was published by J. K. Rowling entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. When the highly popular book was brought to US shores, pages taken out of the original version were added to this new version, with the title changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This is the version I read as a kid around the time a movie was being made based on it. I remember enjoying it, enough to warrant getting all the other books as they came, and enough to want to see the movie when it was released. When I saw it on screen for the first time, I really enjoyed it and how accurate it was to source material. With the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in theaters, I decided to watch all the other movies again in order of release. After seeing the first one once more, I really felt like a kid again.

After being dropped off as a baby, a young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is raised oppressively by the Dursleys, a family of Muggles (people who can't do magic) whom he is related to. One day at the zoo, Harry unknowingly uses magic to not only free a snake from a glass cage, but also trap his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) inside said cage. Shortly afterwards, Harry receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which his uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) destroys. This continues to the point where Harry and the Dursleys isolate themselves due to their house being flooded with letters. Despite this, on Harry's 11th birthday he is visited by Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who tells him that he is a wizard and Hogwarts is accepting him as a student. On the train ride to the school, he meets his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), who along with him become part of a battle against the dark wizard Lord Voldemort (Richard Bremmer) and his search for the Sorcerer's Stone, a magical artifact with the ability to potentially bring him back to full strength.

The plot of this movie compared to other installments is amazingly straight-forward and easy to understand. As expected from a movie adaptation, there are some differences from the book, the most obvious of which to me was the exclusion of the minor character Peeves, a poltergeist who plays tricks on first-years at Hogwarts. However, this movie sets up a world that works just fine even with some small changes in place. On the other hand, I didn't fully understand how Harry was exactly able to defeat Voldemort, but it's best not to think about it too hard.

Given how young most of the characters are, the acting is surprisingly well-done. This is especially since the child actors had little to no acting experience before appearing in this movie. The film was very well casted and it makes the story much more enjoyable. The sets also deserve special mention as it makes you feel like they're really from the book. Hogwarts, which is where most of the action takes place, looks real from the way it was handled and almost makes you want to go there if it existed.

Since this movie involves magic, it's important to have good special effects. Here, they're pulled off rather nicely with the technology available at the time. Looking back, it's easier to tell that certain things were computer generated, such as a scene where the students learn how to ride broomsticks and the character Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) has trouble and falls off. I can't really complain though, since effects have gotten better over time but the quality of them here still manages to hold up somehow. What really helps the look and feel of the movie overall is the music. John Williams delivers a great score that compliments the action and sets flawlessly, enhancing the immersion even further.

Out of all of this, I only have one real complaint: When Harry is finally facing Lord Voldemort, or at least a weakened version of him, he somehow has the Stone in his pocket. The character seems to be surprised by this as well, but it's rather odd. It's explained later that those who seek the stone but don't want to use it will be able to get it, but even then it feels weird. However, I let it slide because thinking about it would ruin the experience.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a fantastic movie and an instant classic. The bright and colorful setting makes it visually appealing and it's great to see amazing performances from child actors. Seeing it again after so many years made me relive fond memories I had from seeing it as a child and I'm sure many older fans would as well. If you're a fan of the Harry Potter books or are a newcomer to the franchise, this is a definite must-have.

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