I’ve always loved the Wizarding World of JK Rowling. I read the books when I was a kid, I’ve watched the movies a hundred times, I have a couple of wands lying around at home… Yeah, Harry Potter has a quite important place in my heart. But it is also true that the films’ quality has been pretty irregular (ahem, let’s not mention Fantastic Beasts). It was great to review the complete X-Men saga, so why not do the same thing with the franchise that Chris Columbus kicked off with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?
Harry is an orphan boy who lives with his uncle, aunt and annoying cousin. He hates them, and they hate him. But upon receiving lots and lots of letters from a mysterious school called Hogwarts, he’ll discover he’s a kid with some special abilities… A wizard, no less. In the magical world Harry will find the family he’s been seeking for, as he’ll finally make some friends, but also face huge dangers…
As stated a few lines back, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is directed by Christopher Columbus (he also directed the second film, as well as the first two Home Alone flicks), who did a terrific job at setting up a universe unlike any other. The tone is very appropriate, as it is completely family-friendly, fun and innocent. Everything from costumes to production design is outstanding. Cinematography is on point too, as the colourful shots with lots of gold tones look brilliant. Harry Potter films have gotten darker and darker through the years, and while it does fit the themes of those stories, going back and watching The Philosopher’s Stone’s warmer palette is always a beautiful experience. In addition, John Williams composed a score that’s memorable and fitting for this movie. Hedwig’s Theme is among the most famous tunes in recent cinema history, and for good reason.
Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione, are played, as you know, by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, respectively. unfortunately, time has proven not all three of them are outstanding actors, but their job in this first film is very good. They were incredibly young when shooting it, and the quality of their performances is nothing short of excellent. Tom Felton, who plays Harry’s antagonist, the repulsive Draco Malfoy, is probably my favourite of them all. His acting is a lot of fun, it really was a perfect casting choice.
The choices for the adult characters are pretty good too. Richard Harris plays Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster, in a compelling and very sweet way. Maggie Smith is another highlight, as her astounding job as Professor McGonagall is among the most memorable due to the excellent line delivery she does. Hagrid, a character I absolutely loved, is nicely portrayed by Robbie Coltrane. Finally, and even if I’ll probably say this is every review of the series… Alan Rickman. Wow. He gives a performance that fits his character’s description according to Rowling perfectly. It’s truly amazing, and going back to watch these first few films having learned about him in the last one is an awesome experience.
One of the main comebacks this movie has is its pacing. It’s a very obvious set-up piece, and as such, it is flooded with exposition-heavy scenes. “Hey Harry, this is a wand”, “Hey Harry, this is a broomstick”, “Hey Harry, this is what the audience needs to understand so we’ll use you as a way to explain it”. Okay, maybe that last bit isn’t taken from the script, but you get the point. This exposition isn’t a huge problem, but it does make the film slightly less enjoyable than its sequels, as it takes a really long time before the main storyline kicks off. In fact, the Philosopher’s Stone itself isn’t mention until we’re 90 minutes into the movie!
However, I really like the adaptation itself. Taking a novel and turning it into a compelling film isn’t an easy task, and The Philosopher’s Stone is excellent at that. They have selected what to include in the movie properly, creating an arc that fits the runtime well. There are quite a lot of things left out, but they aren’t essential and this enables having a pleasant flow of events that doesn’t feel too rushed. One thing that I do not like, however, is the fact that Harry doesn’t cast a spell in the whole damn film. How did no one notice that!?
It must also be mentioned that for a 2001 film, the special effects shown are really good. Sure, there are some weird things here and there, such as the ghosts and the full-body CGI during Quidditch, but overall, the effects look spectacular, even to this date.
All in all, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great example of a movie adaptation that works wonderfully. Due to the set-up a whole new world requires, it is slower than I’d wish, and there are a few things that should’ve gotten more attention from the producers, but overall, it is a good family-oriented film. It proved that Harry Potter would have a long and prosperous journey on the big screen, and left everyone waiting for the second entry in the franchise… Which is everything it needed to do (and a little more). 7/10