Should I Watch..? 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'
What's the big deal?
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (retitled Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone in the US) is an adventure fantasy film released in 2001 and is the first film in the Harry Potter series. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by J.K. Rowling which sees Harry, an orphaned boy living with vile foster parents, discover he is a wizard and covers his various misadventures during his first year at the prestigious school of wizardry, Hogwarts. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the books in 1999 for a reputed £1 million and this film, due to heavy anticipation, became a smash hit at the box office with takings just short of $1 billion. It was also a hit with the critics and would pave the way for a further seven films to follow.
What's it about?
Harry is a seemingly normal boy, living with unpleasant relatives in a cupboard under their stairs in an otherwise ordinary suburban street in England. On his eleventh birthday, he begins received a letter addressed to him - his first such mail - but despite the attempts of his uncle Vernon to prevent him from reading it, more and more mail keeps arriving. Eventually, a mysterious giant named Hagrid turns up and seems to recognise Harry. He tells Harry that he's a famous wizard within the wizarding community and has been accepted into the only magic school in the country, Hogwarts.
Leaving with Hagrid, Harry soon discovers that a secret magical society exist in parallel to the other non-magical (muggle) society. But Harry's past cannot be ignored - he is famous because he survived an attempt on his life by the evil wizard Voldemort who perished instead. With the Dark Lord's servants awaiting his return, Harry must learn to use magic to protect himself as well as learn who to trust at Hogwarts. Along with his new-found friends Hermione and Ron, Harry's adventures are about to begin...
Professor Albus Dumbledore
Steve Kloves *
Release Date (UK)
16th November, 2001
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Academy Award Nominations
Best Set Direction, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design
What's to like?
I didn't see the films until long after they had been released as I was busy enjoying Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings series at the time. I was rather dismissive of them, considering them to be kiddie-friendly knock-offs of a genuine fantasy film so imagine my surprise to find that I was wrong. Well, sort of - this is by far and away the most family friendly of the lot, full of colour and wonder thanks to the incredible set design. Hogwarts, shown here in far greater detail than it ever would be again, almost feels like a character in its own right and is a suitably epic setting for this eagerly anticipated film. Everything from the fast-flowing and exciting Quidditch matches to the Great Hall and corridors filled with portraits that come to life when you walk past is brilliantly realised and makes you believe that they haven't cut corners. This is a film series they're going to do properly.
It doesn't matter if you haven't read the books because the film retains all the necessary details you need to process the story and enjoy it. The cast reads like a who's-who of British talent, all of whom support the large and mostly inexperienced cast. Radcliffe and Grint inhabit their characters as well as anyone you could think of but other highlights include Rickman in snarling form as the menacing Snape. The rest of the effects are also first-class - spells fizzle and crack across the screen and the broomstick flights are also wonderfully done.
- There is an actual platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross, located in a walkway between platforms 9 and 10. It even has a section of a luggage trolley poking through the wall, as a treat to fans.
- Hogwarts' motto - "Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus" - is Latin for "Never tickle a sleeping dragon".
- During filming, Radcliffe played a prank on Coltrane by changing his phone's language into Turkish. Coltrane had to phone the Turkish father of hair designer Eithne Fennel in order to change it back.
What's not to like?
Whether this is intentional or not, I don't know but Watson's Hermione is an unbelievably irritating know-it-all. I admit to a certain tolerance of children in movies as a lot of them are played for laughs with dialogue a child would never say or so impossibly attention-seeking that you have the same respect for them as you do for that chubby kid who always sit behind on aeroplanes and insists on slamming his tray repeatedly into the back of your seat. Thankfully, she improves in later films but this initial outing did not make me warm to her one bit.
You can see the level of detail lavished on this film but it just didn't quite convince the same way Lord Of The Rings did. Yes, I know it's a kid's book so it's unlikely we'll see any gory decapitations or wizards being burned alive in a fiery duel to the death. But it does feel like it robs the film of any real sense of danger - for all of Dumbledore's warnings about the dangers of lurking in the woods at night, you suspect it's more because they'll get lost and not because they'll be eaten alive by wolves.
Should I watch it?
It wouldn't hit its stride for a while but Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone is a warm, entertaining and confident start to the series. Expertly bringing Rowling's work to life, the film manages that difficult trick of entertaining children and adults although I suspect younger viewers will get the most out of it. This truly is a magical film, full of splendour and wonder and a great way to kick things off.
Great For: fans of the books, children, cynics
Not So Great For: fans of the later films, Tolkien die-hards
What else should I watch?
The films take a radically different tone halfway through the next film - Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets - as they start getting darker and grittier as the series progresses. By the time we get to the last two films that comprise Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, the films have become almost action thrillers with magical warfare being waged on a grand scale. This first film is definitely the lightest of the lot and if you have very young kids then that's fine.
The reason I judge the Harry Potter series alongside The Lord Of The Rings is because they are actually closer than fans of either would care to admit. Jackson's sublime trilogy is still the forefront of the fantasy genre and will be for many years to come. But both series offer a thrilling, exciting journey to savour over a number of pictures but if you're looking for something a little more grown up than the bespectacled boy wizard then Middle-Earth should be your first port-of-call. If three films aren't enough for Tolkien fans then The Hobbit trilogy provides an equally stunning, if less enjoyable, return visit to Tolkien's realm of high-fantasy.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox