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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer`s Stone: The Trouble With Harry Potter
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Chris Columbus (director) and Steve Kloves (screenwriter)
Genre:   Fantasy / Adventure
Released:   November 16, 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Well, I could start by telling you that the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an adaptation of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular novel of the same title, about a mistreated orphan who discovers that he is destined to be one of the greatest wizards of all time, but, in as much as every English speaking person in the world is already Infected withor at least knows about Harry Potter fever, that doesn't answer your question.

I could tell you it stars Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, John Cleese and is directed by Chris (Home Alone) Columbus.

But I doubt that's a major concern to you at this point either.

Call me psychic, but I'm guessing you've read all the books and all you want to know about the movie is:

"Did they #%^& it up?

A simple question that deserves a simple answer:

"No."

I mean, "Not really."

Well, sort of, but -- *sigh.*

I came in late to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. I'm not one to get swept up in fads, my kids aren't of reading age and my schedule barely allows me enough time to finish a Joe Lansdale novel in less than six months. The impetus I had was knowing I would be reviewing the film and a surprisingly cynical friend who pushed the audio book on me. I gotta say, once I started The Sorcerer's Stone I couldn't put it down.

Besides its imaginative characters and settings, there was its underlying themes that most impressed me. Most of it is child empowerment, but also the need to "build" a family, and feelings of alienation and being devalued, while secretly believing you have higher purpose. Anxieties that drift away from the forefront in adulthood but never completely go away.

Rowling wrote a humorous, well-pace book with such universal appeal that I couldn't imagine any director who could even purposely make a bad movie from it. That was until I found out the director was Chris Columbus.

Most of you have had to trade with friends or fork over $20 to bootleggers to see 17th generation copies of the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie (so awful it's good) assuming you've even seen it all? We could have all seen it in the theater -- who am I kidding? -- on Showtime, if not for Chris Columbus.

It seems Mr.Big-Time Hollywood director got Marvel Comics and the studios to shelve the movie on the promise that he would make them a much better one. Considering Columbus' track record (Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Weeks, Bicentennial Man) Roger Corman may be the only person he can make that boast about.

I could tell you Harry Potter is easily the best movie Columbus ever made, but that's inadvertently damning it with faint praise.

When it comes to adapting movies from books there's two methods. One is for the director to edit the story down to what they consider the most important elements and interpreting it through their own personal vision. In the extreme you get Stanley Kubrick's The Shining where the movie, while good, only slightly resembles the original text.

With X-Men Bryan Singer took 30 years of stories and boiled it all down to what he saw as the elements that made it work. There will always be hardcore members of the fan base that lament that their favorite characters and plotlines weren't represented, but on the whole the movie is more emotionally satisfying.

Unfortunately, Chris Columbus takes the other route. Those who worry that the movie won't be faithful to the book can rest assured that it is painfully faithful. It's the reason why the movie runs an unforgivable two and a half hours long. It's packed with almost every bit of minutiae, and it all get equal screen time with the events that might be considered important. As a result, it feels an hour too long, yet rushed.

The child actors are all dead ringers for their literary counterparts. And while I didn't think they were bad actors, it definitely felt like they could have used one more week of rehearsals.

With the exception of Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, who dominates every scene he's in, all of the veteran actors' scenes are too short and underwritten to be of any real effect. And the scenes with John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick were unnecessary and so poorly written they detracted from the movie.

It was maybe the only part of the script that I would consider to be "bad," though. It's all just so much "Harry Potter-at-a-glance" and much of the humor and charm got lost in the rush. The script felt like it just needed, well, just one more week to be punched up.

The driving need to get the whole thing wrapped in time for Thanksgiving is nowhere more apparent than in the inconsistency of the special effects (remember The Mummy Returns?). The CG work on the mountain troll, Fluffy, and the game of Wizard chess is some of the best I've seen. Some of the other stuff, however… especially the flying scenes, are reminiscent of Escape from Witch Mountain.

Because the end confrontation is so anti-climactic, by default the real climax ends up being the Quidditch match in the middle of the movie. It's quite exciting and fun and yet I couldn't stop wondering why it couldn't look even as good as the speeder bike chase Return of the Jedi… which came out 17 years ago!

Despite everything I've said, I'm fairly certain you're going to enjoy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. If you haven't read the books it's a decent enough introduction to the world of Hogwarts Wizard Academy. And if you read the books your fond memories will fill in the gaps.

Because it remains so faithful to the source material it's one of the very few movies targeted at kids that doesn't talk down to them. Unlike with Spy Kids or Star Wars: Episode I, there are no moments of inexplicable "lameness" that compel you to make excuses for it: "After all it IS a movie for kids".

Rowling has done all the hard work here and her book has run the ball down to the goal line. Columbus scores but with a field goal and not a touchdown.

I know what you're thinking. If I'd been more of a Harry-phile I'd have used a quidditch metaphor instead of football? Am I right?

Well…I'm not gonna geek out in front of you guys like that. Once a muggle, always a muggle.


RevolutionSF contributor Martin Thomas is a retired comic book artist living out his remaining years hosting 2 movie review TV shows down in Austin, Texas.

 
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