Harry Potter Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
3 out of 5 stars   US title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
a letter from hogwarts This first installment in the Harry Potter chronicles has a lot of hype to live up to, even though it can hardly fail. Warner Bros has poured enough money in to realize even the most outlandish effects sequences and, to keep the story in line, hired a director with no artistic ambitions. The result is great fun, even if it's not a particularly good movie.

The story follows Harry (Radcliffe) as he discovers his origins as a wizard, heads off to Hogwarts to study the craft and make friends with Ron and Hermoine (Grint and Watson), and have an adventure he could never have dreamed about.

The genius of JK Rowling's story is that she never condescends to her readers, and her characters are complex, authentic human beings. And while Columbus can't help but talk down to viewers (he always has), at least the characters remain truly inspired, intriguing and engaging. Radcliffe gives a terrific performance as Harry, even if Columbus can't help but urge him to flash that winning smile in every scene. It's in the dark edges that Harry is the most interesting, and let's hope that this comes out more in future film adventures. The vast cast of British veterans is great fun to watch, although Coltrane is the only one who's allowed to bring a spark of personality into his role--he delivers Hagrid's goofy dialog perfectly. On the other hand, although Rickman is efficiently shifty as Professor Snape, he never cuts loose at all, remaining infuriatingly bland.

But the biggest problem here is Columbus, who over-produces the film from the cliched Ye Olde Englande set design to carefully orchestrated set pieces. Even John Williams' lovely score sounds strangely Elfmanesque, trying too hard to establish the story's fantastical elements. And the scenes all seem chopped short, with gaps in logic between sequences that add to the feeling that this film, while still plenty long, was harshly edited down from a much longer cut. All that said, it's still great fun to watch, never dull and full of Rowling's superb ideas and themes. There are six more films to come, and let's hope Columbus grows just a tiny sense of irony and wit along the way.

cert PG themes, suspense, violence 12.Nov.01

dir Chris Columbus
scr Steve Kloves
with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Zoe Wanamaker, Warwick Davis, John Cleese, Tom Felton
release US & UK 16.Nov.01
Warners 01/UK 2h35

Our heroes. Harry, Ron and Hermoine (Radcliffe, Frint and Watson) take on the baddies...

coltrane harris smith


R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the first years arrive "Thank goodness, this film is as good as everyone wanted it to be. It benefits from a very strong British cast, which ensures that JK Rowling's story is successfully brought to life on screen (with almost no changes at all to the original tale). It is funny, well-written, full of drama and excitement. The visual effects are stunning (especially the Quidditch match) and you can tell everyone had great fun filming it. Rickman is an especially delicious Professor Snape - all mean, staring eyes with an over-the-top sinister presence. Coltrane as Hagrid is also very good - extremely funny, and they seem to have successfully made him nine foot tall! It's a good, old-fashioned, public school adventure, where the main character beats the odds to go from living in a cupboard under the stairs to being a hero. I think this is the heart of JK Rowling's success - she takes everyone - children and adults - away from the cynical and gloomy realities of life, and takes us to a place of fantasy and innocence, where good triumphs over evil. Given the current world circumstances we are all living with every day, I wanted to give a cheer at the end of the film. Long live childhood! And long live Harry Potter!" --Jo Caswell, West Sussex 11.Nov.01

hedwig and harry "Huge applause from a packed Odeon at beginning and end of movie - about two thirds of the audience in the 6-14 age group. No problem on length for kids! Movie wise, it was a big mistake to let Rowling have so much (reported) influence as she clearly does not understand difference between novel and movie narrative. Too many early and middle scenes are there because they were in the book and look good. This slows down the narrative - then not enough scenes to build up the climax of the battle between Harry and villain, which ends rather too quickly. The Quiddich scene is fabulous and outdoes the Star Wars pod race in thrills. Still, all said, very enjoyable." --David Smith, London 12.Nov.01

coltrane as hagrid "Okay, if I were a kid I would love to fantasize that I really am the offspring of a powerful wizard and witch, and would imagine how excited I would feel to receive my invitation to attend Hogwarts School! The book has the luxury of giving the reader more insight and background of the main characters, but the movie does a good job. We went to the 10:40pm showing on opening day, which got out at after 1am. I did enjoy the show, and my husband Bob, who did not want to see it, also thought it was a cool movie. He had not read any of the books, which might be why he said he did not always know what was going on - and some parts seemed a bit long, but maybe cuz it was so late and we were tired. But I felt the movie was really well done, it followed the book generally - and I would recommend it to anyone. I have been thinking about why this is so appealing, and I gotta say the whole escape thing and how cool would it be to get an invite to the school and learn you had magical powers - it would brighten anyone's day! I feel it is a story for all ages, timeless and original." --Laurie T, Minneapolis 18.Nov.01

© 2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall