With the release this week of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, the final (?) Harry Potter film, in movie theatres, now seems like a good time to look back on the Potter series and how it evolved over the years while keeping as close as possible to the original J.K. Rowling books. The new film, like the (second half of) the book it's based on, signals an end to the popular series. The next (well, almost) several posts in this blog will review the various installments of the series.
First up is 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (here's the original trailer), which audiences saw two months after the horrible events of 9/11. The country was looking for both some kind of reassurance and an escape then, and Harry and company fit the bill. The opening chapter of this series introduces us to young 11-year-old orphan Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) who gets accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which allows him to escape his nasty relatives. At Hogwarts, he meets and makes various friends and potential enemies, including fellow students Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson); instructors Quirrell (Ian Hart), Snape (Alan Rickman) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith), headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris); and groundskeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).
Harry studies how to use his inherent magical powers, becomes a champion at the game of "Quidditch" ( a game kinda like soccer, but on flying broomsticks), and discovers that his parents were killed by the evil Voldemort, who may be trying to prolong his life through the "sorcerer's stone". (Voldemort also gave Harry his zigzag scar, which flares up when danger is sensed.) Somebody on the teaching staff at Hogwarts is aiding Voldemort, but who? Harry, with the aid of Ron, Hermione and Hagrid, tries to find out.
Although director Chris Columbus (never a favorite of mine) has a leaden sense of pacing and John Williams' soundtrack is overdone (and I am a fan of Williams), Sorcerer's Stone still manages to succeed as a good intro to the series. The performances are sincere, the episodic structure of the book is adapted reasonably well to the screen (although some scenes should've been shortened or cut; Richard Harris' two big scenes at the end for example, no fault of his, go on interminably) and the overall sense of fun and adventure that made the books (well, most of them) work carries over successfully. The scenes with the Quidditch game, the Orge in the girls' restroom and the exciting chess board sequence with giant, animated -and lethal!- pieces are especially exciting and well done (not to mention reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen's films). In short, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, flaws aside, still holds up as an entertaining, if overlong, introduction to the series. (Click here to reserve our copy online.)