Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

From the director of Home Alone comes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! Bet you won’t see that on any movie posters. Thankfully, this film doesn’t feature Macaulay Culkin or a pair of bumbling thieves.

Based on the first in a series of wildly successful children’s books, Harry Potter tells the story of a young boy’s adventures at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After the death of his parents, baby Harry goes to live with his oafish Aunt and Uncle who think of him more as a servant than a son. But he has a destiny that cannot be denied and when he reaches the age of 11, is accepted, against his guardian’s wishes, to Hogwarts.

Played adequately by young Daniel Radcliffe, Harry is almost a static character, who succeeds more through luck than actual talent. He and his chums (Ron Weasley & Emma Watson) make their way through school, facing many of the same challenges normal kids face, with a bit of a magical twist. However, there is more to Hogwarts than meets the eye, and Harry and Co. have mysteries to uncover and evil to battle.

Visuals and characters are Harry Potter’s strength. The kiddies are well acted and even better directed. Missing is some of the bad child acting we have come to expect from any film not featuring the kid genius from The Sixth Sense. The teachers too are fun to watch. All of them are typical crazy old wizards and charming giants with not much personality, but a great deal of flair. Alan Rickman is most noteworthy as a particularly mysterious teacher with something devious hidden beneath his cape. Then of course, there’s the obligatory John Cleese cameo, without which no modern film is truly complete.

But most of all, Potter is visually rich. Lovingly detailed sets and carefully costumed characters bring life and luster to young Potter’s world. John William’s score to plays a huge role here, gleefully parading through the film with wonder and magic in the sound of his brilliant horns. Effects are first rate and occasionally thrilling. One scene in particular stands out, a thrilling game played on flying broomsticks; for which I have seen nothing to compare.

Sadly, eye candy isn’t everything and Potter definitely doesn’t have it all. There’s something wrong with the pacing here. Far to often the film seems to bumble about focusing on minutiae when it should be cutting to the chase. The set-up is long, very long. I clocked a good 45 minutes before Harry even gets to the school. That’s not to say the opening isn’t entertaining! There’s fun to be had in watching Harry’s evil Aunt and Uncle squirm uncomfortably; and beauty to behold in the magical world of the Wizard Bank. Still, editing is a problem and there are moments when this movie needs a little work.

Perhaps part of this can be attributed to director Chris Columbus sticking too closely to his source material. Not having read the book, I cannot say. But any film should be able to stand on its own merit, without its original material as required reading. Yet, Harry Potter has the pacing and tone of a novel, not a feature film. There is a distinct difference between the two mediums, and I suspect that Columbus needed to be a bit braver with his scripting.

There’s a real effort here to make this film interesting to both children and adults, and I’m not sure how well it serves. Frankly, there are holes. Loads of them. Big, juicy, New York sized potholes. Potter expects us to take leaps of faith based on a puff of smoke, without sufficient explanation or attempt at background story. For children none of this will matter, they’ll be thrilled to see their favorite characters running around having adventures. But, for adults, I have to hope that most of us want a little more. Especially in the ending, which is blatantly empty and unsupported by the film itself.

A lot of people are sincerely looking forward to this film and I don’t think the Harry Potter devout will be disappointed. Despite being directed by the man responsible for Home Alone, Potter delivers a detailed visual spectacle glued together by a diverse cast of interesting and odd inhabitants. For the non-fan, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone serves up a memorable diversion, but it’s hard to ignore the potholes.

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