Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) Review

Time: 152 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Contains supernatural theme
Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid
Warwick Davis as Filius Flitwick
Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley
Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore
Ian Hart as Quirinus Quirrell
John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall
Julie Walters as Molly Weasley
Director: Chris Columbus

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an average bespectacled 11 year old boy who has lived with the Dursley family ever since his parents died in a car crash. For some reason the family has always mistreated him. On his 11th birthday a giant man named Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) hands him a letter telling him that he has been accepted as a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that his parents were wizards and were killed by an evil wizard Voldemort, a truth that was hidden from him all these years. He embarks for his new life as a student, gathering two good friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) along the way. They soon learn that something very valuable is hidden somewhere inside the school and Voldemort is very anxious to lay his hands on it.

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With Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald releasing towards the end of the year, I decided to have a look through all of the Harry Potter movies in the lead up to its release. The books were very popular and in the late 90s, Warner Bros were looking to adapt this acclaimed and beloved series (which was still going on) to the big screen. In 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (no it’s not titled the Sorcerer’s Stone here in New Zealand) was released to much love from readers and non readers alike. I grew up with these movies with my family, so no matter some of the flaws that some of them have, I can’t help but love them. As for the Philosopher’s stone, it’s not one of the better movies in the series but I still like it, and watching it more recently, its actually impressive how well it started off the series for both those familiar with the Harry Potter books and those that weren’t.

Out of all the movies, Philosopher’s Stone is the most accurate to the book (you don’t get everything from the book in here though, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s only so much you can put into one movie). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s automatically a better movie than the rest. Seeing it again recently, Philosopher’s Stone actually does some very impressive things that I didn’t notice before. What actually surprised me the most was the length of the movie, it was 2 hours and 30 minutes because it felt so much shorter. Director Chris Columbus really keeps the movie at a pretty good pace, it never feels like it lingers on things too much and it never feels rushed. Another great thing is when it comes to establishing the world of Harry Potter. When it comes to adapting fantasy or sci fi source material to the big screen, one of the biggest challenges is establishing the fictional world in a strong way to the audience, so that they are immersed and perfectly understand what kind of world they are in. With the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s done greatly, the story is simple but effective enough that you are willing to accept all the crazy magical things that this movie is establishing to you. The movie is very light hearted, especially in contrast with the rest of the series, however it really was the best way to start off the series. The book anyway has a mostly light tone, so the movie brought it to the big screen very well. Though I won’t lie this movie can feel really dated and a little too goofy and over the top at times (too many instances to list).

Almost all of the Harry Potter characters were perfectly cast. The main 3 actors with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (who play Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger respectively) do have some missteps but they all do good jobs. The child actors in the early films aren’t all the best and are a little rocky (especially with the line delivery), but they do improve over the years. The adult actors are all around well cast. Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore (who does a good job as Dumbledore in his two film appearances for their respective stories), Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape (absolutely perfect and much better than the book version of Snape), Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, all do excellent jobs. Even some of the one scene actors do quite well, like John Hurt as Ollivander the wandmaker. The only casting choice/character who doesn’t work quite as well is Ian Hart as Professor Quirrell. While not bad or anything, he really wasn’t anything special, was a little over the top and it’s pretty clear the moment he’s on screen that he’s secretly shady (for lack of a better non spoilerish term).

Yes, as you’ll probably get from my thoughts on the later Harry Potter films, I do prefer the darker movies but for what Chris Columbus was going for in the first two Harry Potter movies, it works rather well. It’s also a perfect way to bring the audience, whether they are fans of the books or not, into the world. Chris Columbus does a great job at establishing the Harry Potter world. The production design is really great, especially in Hogwarts, it really does make you feel like you’re in a magical school. The visuals aren’t as impressive as those in the later movies but for its time it worked very well. Some visual effects haven’t aged well (especially the green screen), but you can accept it as it’s a movie from 2001. John Williams’s score as always is iconic and very memorable, adding a lot of ‘magic’ into a movie with already so much magic. It is a little on the nose in a couple scenes when Voldemort is brought up and the score drops to an over the top ominous sound, but otherwise it’s quite good.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is still good, and as I said a perfect adaptation of the book. Even if you think it’s on a significantly lower level compared to the rest of the movies, I think it’s worth acknowledging a lot of the impressive things it did with establishing the world and keeping the long running movie at a pretty fast pace. It’s not my favourite of the Harry Potter movies, it does feel quite dated but it nonetheless did a good job at starting off the series.

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