Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ★★★½

Well that wasn't quite as good as I remembered, but still solid nonetheless. The massive success of the Harry Potter franchise cannot be understated, Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon that delivered a series of entertaining books for me to read as a kid, and some equally good films as well. I really did grow up alongside these characters in the films and have watched all these movies multiple times, so there is certainly a bit of nostalgia in my heart for all of the Harry Potter movies. Revisiting the first film The Sorceror's Stone (or Philosopher's) with a more critical eye has definitely revealed to me that the first in the film series has not aged the best, but it's still a fun and imaginative film that nails the look and feel of the Wizarding World.

I've always found it a bit hard to evaluate the first two Harry Potter films directed by Chris Columbus. They are both extremely similar in look, feel, and faithfulness in their adaptations of the books and I have not only often gotten scenes confused between the two movies, but also confused scenes I remember from the books with being in the movies. For the longest time when I was younger I was absolutely convinced that there was a scene after the chess match with Harry and Hermione, but that is only in the books. It's the little details that I tend to remember too, scenes that further the characters that you find out aren't actually in the movie when you're paying close attention.

Trying to appraise this film with a more conscious critical eye, I did notice narrative and specifically pacing issues with this film, it really does feel like you're reading a book with how some of the scenes go. Sure, you do get immersed into this universe with all the world-building but there isn't a whole lot of a compelling central narrative to this film. The central macguffin of the Sorceror's Stone never feels that important to the film, and my viewing this time illuminated on just how unsatisfying the climax is and how the plot is resolved.

But despite these issues, there is still a lot to love with this first film in the Harry Potter franchise. The cast is really phenomenal, while many of the young actors will really only grow into these roles later, actors like Robbie Coltraine as Hagrid, Maggie Smith as MacGonnagal, Alan Rickman as Snape, and Richard Harris as Dumbledore are all very convincing. And while many of the CG visuals have dated rather poorly, the other visual elements and set design are still imaginative and look great. While it is certainly for the best that Chris Columbus left after the second film and things began to get darker, it is appropriate that the earlier years of Harry Potter are established with these vibrant visuals and family-friendly nature so that we can get to know the magical world before the coming storm of He Who Shall Not Be Named.

So despite the issues I may now have with this film, I still think that on the whole it is an imaginative and faithful adaptation of the first book that accomplishes what it sets out to do and lays the groundwork for a landmark franchise that will only get better from here.

Erik [Auk] liked these reviews