Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Directed by Chris Columbus, 2001

I might as well admit it: I hadn’t finished reading the book when I saw "Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone", so I had no idea what to expect, only that this was a world wide success and that made me curious.

 

The story

The film opens magically with a wizard, Professor Dumbledore, turning off the street lights in a town in Surrey, England, where the orphaned Harry Potter is to grow up with his Uncle Vernon, his Aunt Petunia and his cousin, Dudley Dursley. We follow Harry’s farcically Dickensian upbringing, where he is treated quite absurdly - like a modern day Cinderella - until he reaches the age of 11. At that point he learns that he is a famous wizard, the only survivor of a death curse cast by the evil Lord Voldemort who has killed Harry’s parents.

The film now unfolds to a totally new world before your eyes (if you can overlook the fact that most things in that world are "borrowed" from famous children’s books, folklore, mythology and Star Wars!) and this world of wizardry is utterly magical and enchanting. We first encounter the wizard world in Diagon Alley in London and later at Hogwarts, a boarding school for young witches and wizards where Harry is to spend the next seven years.

At Hogwarts he makes friends with the poor but loyal Ron Weasley and the annoying but intelligent Hermione Granger. This unlikely trio now faces a classic battle of good against evil.

 

Magic moments – and not so magic

To me there are many enchanting moments in the film. The magic wall that leads into Diagon Alley is one. The students sailing to Hogwarts another; truly amazing. The moving staircases and paintings in Hogwarts add to the mysterious world, and the wizard’s chess is wonderful, although I couldn’t help but think of Lewis Carroll’s "Through The Looking Glass". There are plenty of things to see and to be captured by in this film, but there are also moments that seem too far out.

The depicting of Harry’s upbringing at the Dursleys is quite over the top, too bizarre to really fit in with the rest of the film. It’s even more unbelievable than the world of the wizards. The same goes for the way that Harry, Ron and Hermione are portrayed. I wonder why the casting directors have picked these three kids. Kids who – although they’re actually a bit older than their characters - look WAY younger? Like 8 year olds? They are also made to act like 8 year olds. No 11 year old these days is as innocent and childish as this unlikely trio. Believe me. The 11 year olds of today are into rock music, parties and boys/girls, but the story doesn’t make room for that.

 

The cast

Of the adult cast I have to mention Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltraine and Alan Rickman. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltraine very aptly portray their characters of the strict but gracious Professor McGonagall and the huge, loveable keybearer Hagrid, whereas the performances of Richard Harris and Alan Rickman as respectively Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape are outstanding. Richard Harris lends the magic and majestic Professor Dumbledore grace, warmth and a bit of lunacy, whereas Alan Rickman as the suspicious potion master Professor Snape seems sinister, stern, elegant and fascinating all in one. Rickman’s hypnotic voice strengthens this image.

As for the young cast: well, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter is pretty annoying. He’s such a bloody goody two-shoes, that it makes you want to puke. Polite, correct and kind. To be fair, it’s not young Radcliffe’s fault that he has to play the part of a perfect boy hero, but it’s quite nauseating to watch.

As for Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; what was the casting directors thinking? The girl can’t act! On top of that Hermione is supposed to be bushy-haired and buck-teethed, but Miss Watson is one of the prettiest little girls around! I think this is one of the worst cases of miscasting I have ever seen.

That leaves us with Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and thank God for that! With a face like his and a wonderful sense of timing and comedy, he’s the one to watch. Go on, Grint! You’ve got yourself a new fan!
Other young cast members worth noticing are Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan, Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Chris Rankin as Percy Weasley and James and Oliver Phelps as the delightful Weasley-twins.

 

Where’s the plot?

"Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone" is not a film like any other film, mainly because it doesn’t really have a plot. Nothing really happens. What it is, is a very long introduction to the Harry Potter universe with only a feeble plot that isn’t even clear until 1 hour and 45 minutes into the 147 minutes long film.

Besides, the ending went right over my head. Not until I had seen it a couple of times, did I get how Harry could access the Philosophers Stone, and even then the explanation seemed rather far-fetched. What I noticed instead was that our young hero deliberately kills a human being, even though it is in self-defence. It’s so out of character and also a very weird thing for an 11 year old hero to do, but never mind… At least that’s what the film seems to say, as the killing is hardly reflected upon.

There are several inconsistencies like this in the film, but the over all magic can’t be denied. In the hopes that the Harry Potter saga is going to pick up plot-wise, I’ll give it three out of five stars: ***

@ Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2001

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