Retro Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

“You’re a wizard, Harry,” says Hagrid.

Just as the quote says there be magic swimming within the new feature film based on “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, the first book in the amazing children’s series.

The studio and Hollywood magicians bring the world of Harry Potter alive in full technicolor with panache.

Young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) lives with his aunt and uncle who really neglect the boy. Until one day when a mysterious letter arrives asking for Harry to journey to Hogwart’s, a special school for witchcraft and sorcery.

Harry’s mysterious past comes to light as he learns about his heritage and the life of a wizard at Hogwart’s.

While attending Hogwart’s, Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith).

Ron and Hermione quickly become his closest friends as Harry has run-ins with each of his new professors. As Harry finds out the professors will become adversaries or acquaintances.

Harry, Ron and Hermione stumble upon a mystery brewing within the school and its up to the students to stop an evil presence from stealing “The Philosopher’s Stone”. This mysterious evil presence also has links to Harry’s family heritage.

“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is a brilliantly weaved and constructed film as it follows the book as much as it can in the time allowed.

The film reminded me a lot of the old Disney family films of the seventies like “Candleshoe”, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, and “Escape to Witch Mountain”. Those films always embraced the elements of heart and family. Harry Potter brings that concept to the new millennium.

In those older films, the special effects weren’t flawless and tension was never too thick. Potter follows that spirit as well. The effects in Potter are far from flawless but for what they aspire to be should enchant a child’s imagination making them gasp. Some of the creatures in the film like the mountain troll and centaur reminded me more of the mythical creatures from stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen than those of the CGI dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park”. If these characters were more real or too real than it probably would have frightened children instead of delighted them.

“Harry Potter” does also lag a little in the darker scenes. In the novel these scenes create tension and atmosphere but on film they come off as just passageways to the more jubilant scenes.

I will be curious to see what a person away from the novel will make of these darker scenes and if they have the same effect as in the novel.

With a running time of over 2 hours and 30 minutes, the filmmakers had to leave out some of the revelations presented in the novel.

The result is that the film’s first half is almost a direct translation and the second half is where you can see where there were some educated compressing and lopping off of novel subplots to keep with the film’s rhythm.

If the compressing wasn’t done, we would be talking a 4 part BBC mini-series at least. The scenes involving Harry’s mirror, Hagrid’s dragon, and Neville have all been dwarfed in significance compared to the novel for the sake of the running time.

I loved the performances of the kids in the lead roles. I absolutely adored newcomer Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. He truly is the literary figure come to life. As a fan of the novel, I was however disappointed with the performances of the Professor’s. It is hard to get to know them as you did in the novel because here they come off as merely expanded cameos.

Harry Potter will become a greatly loved and appreciated family film even if it does have its share of flaws. When you see it just let Harry’s world immerse you then smile and look over at the youngster beside you who will be in awe. This is a film that needs to be cherished by the whole family. I can’t wait for the second one.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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