Aug 3, 2012

[Movies] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

Recently we ended up starting to watch all of the Harry Potter movies again since Prince had somehow managed not to have seen any of them before. And this interesting trip down what is now a valid part of geek nostalgia lane led me to consider whether or not I've posted reviews for all the movies yet. And since I've recently put effort into reviewing all of the Star Wars, Star Trek and even the Back to the Future movies, it seems only fitting to complete my Harry Potter line-up as well.

It's difficult to fully explain the Harry Potter phenomenon and just why this particular book series became so popular with folks of practically all walks of life around the world. But instead of questioning, we can just accept that it is and thus the franchise has grown to cover books, toys, video games, and of course these movies. Plus we can plot its larger impact on the various markets leading to a surge in young adult fiction writers and of course an increased number of movie adaptations of fantasy novels.

Simply put - Harry Potter changed our lives, and so it will forever remain significant. But enough of this lofty talk - on to the review!

Synopsis: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (or known outside the US as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) is a 2001 fantasy adventure movie based on the J.K. Rowling novel of the same name (as per distribution market). The movie was directed by Chris Columbus with a screenplay by Steve Kloves.

Young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) lives a rather miserable life with his Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Forced to sleep in a closet under the stairs and pretty much wait on his relatives hand and foot, Harry's life constantly reminds him that he's an orphan due to the death of his parents when was just a baby. But things start to change as his 11th birthday approaches as strange things begin to happen. And when a series of letters start to arrive that his Uncle refuses to allow him to read, things get stranger still.

It turns out that Harry is a wizard like his parents before him and the Dursleys were trying to hide this fact from him. But with the help of the half-giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), he eventually learns of his fate and is whisked away from the Muggle world and made to see the magical one hidden between the cracks of our own world. And like all young wizards, he's expected to learn the ways of magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But Harry isn't quite like any other wizard - primarily because he's already famous in the wizarding world for one simple fact - he survived.

Having read the book before watching the movie, I was pretty impressed with almost everything that went into creating this movie. From the set design, the costumes, the casting and of course the way the various scenes were put together, I was beyond impressed. Harry Potter may not have been one of my favorite books at the time, but I could definitely recognize the effort that went into translation Rowling's creation into the massive movie experience that it eventually became.

There already exists a tremendous amount of commentary on why Daniel Radcliffe was such an amazing casting choice for the role of Harry Potter, I'm not sure what else to add. And beyond Harry alone, one has to also acknowledge how his casting was even better given the amazing on-screen chemistry between him and his Hogwarts friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). It's sort of like how the first Star Wars movie involved an ensemble casting process that made sure the lead characters could work well together and achieve the desired vision. We definitely saw that again here with these three talented actors.

For the time, the movie was a lovely blend between CGI and more physical effects. And considering all the magical elements of the world of Hogwarts that they had to bring to life, they certainly had their work cut out for them. But I really enjoyed how they managed to weave the various movie magic elements into the world of Harry Potter in a matter that has pretty much defined magic for a generation.

The story in itself wasn't necessarily my favorite in the series, but naturally we all had to start somewhere. This movie lays a lot of the groundwork for just how the wizarding world works given the special rules, terminology and even sports as realized in Quidditch. The somewhat lackluster initial plot aside, the main success of the movie is creating a vision of the universe for us that matches what most of us imagined when we first read the books.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a fun adventure into a literary world made real. Thus I happily rate it as 4 magical spells and enchantations out of a possible 5.
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