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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steve Kloves from the novel by J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros., 2001

I don’t know if there’s a more profitable franchise than the Harry Potter series, which has fans eagerly anticipating the next book and the next film with equal fervor (not to mention the merchandise). Books are rarely blockbusters but J.K. Rowling’s adventures of a boy wizard get snatched up by the millions and then read by the next day.

In 2001, Chris Columbus, who had guided Macaulay Culkin through two Home Alone movies in the early nineties and had a hit-and-miss career afterwards, was pegged to direct the beginning of a franchise that would ask him to direct children, who would be the main stars, as he had done years before. Still, I wasn’t sure he was the best man for the job in a world of magic (special effects), and I remember being underwhelmed when I first watched The Sorcerer’s Stone. On this, the second viewing, I didn’t find it all that bad, found it entertaining, and moved on.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (known as the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK and elsewhere) introduces us to the title character (Daniel Radcliffe), an 11-year-old unknowing wizard who as a baby somehow fended off an attack from the dark wizard Voldemort, who killed his parents. We pick up the story with grand wizard Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), along with half-man, half-giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), all stalwarts of the magical community, leaving Harry on the doorstep of his next of kin: his awful Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling).

The “muggle” (non-magic people) relatives treat him like a bastard child, keeping him in a small room under the stairs until one day a note inviting him to attend the Hogwarts School of Magic arrives. Despite the efforts of his aunt and uncle to keep the letter from him, he is eventually whisked away by Hagrid.

Once there, Potter meets those who would be his BFFs Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The school is filled with ghosts, talking paintings, odd professors, and your usual everyday school stuff including rivalries and cliques, made part of the school fabric by dividing kids into groups called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw.

Harry has to contend with his largely unknown past, his rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), a gaggle of professors including one for the Defense Against the Dark Arts, Quirrell (Ian Hart) and Professor of Potions, Snape (the wonderful Alan Rickman, who regularly steals these movies), and in this chapter of his life, the intrigue involving the Sorcerer’s Stone, being held somewhere on the school grounds and heavily protected. Someone within the school wants it for some reason, but it can’t be good. Rest assured Harry and friends will get into some mischief all in the name of stopping evil.

Columbus doesn’t work magic with this film but considering Rowling’s story is entertaining enough, the least he could do was not screw it up, and that’s the product we have here. It’s a movie that is reasonably entertaining and it may be one of those things where it works better on a small screen, feeling like an episode of an epic TV series. It wouldn’t be until Alfonso Cuaron came onboard with the third chapter that the series would feel more cinematic, but hey, this is serviceable.

In 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone took in over $317 million here in the U.S. and nearly a billion worldwide. The top film of the year (beating Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), it once was the 7th highest grossing film ever (now 18th) and currently sits at 4th on the worldwide scale. Considering that the books are world-reknowned, this isn’t much of a surprise. It’s still the highest grossing of the series.

Next: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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