Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

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

2001 Ranked

Having not seen any Harry Potter in its entirety, it seemed that it was finally time to embark upon this franchise that dominated the childhood of many of my peers. Until today, the only time I had seen any portion of a Harry Potter film was, I believe, this film in the car of a friend that had a dvd player in their parents car. It absolutely terrified me, rendering this a franchise that would get put off for a long time. Add in some parental worry regarding the depiction of witchcraft and it was obvious that this was not a franchise I would see as a child. As an adult, however, this became an inevitability and, well, the time has come. In this first entry into the series, The Sorcerer's Store is a Spielbergian film with a great sense of wonder, magic, and a child-like view of the world in which it inhabits that makes it a true expression of childish glee and joy, even when it can become quite cheesy and a bit hokey.

Those cheesy and hokey bits come at a few moments that can certainly be pin-pointed at the real lowlights of the film. The first is the Quidditch sequence. In 2001, the special effects in that scene were bad and they are somehow even worse in 2017. The flying as a whole is often quite rough, but the prolonged Quidditch scene is the most obvious portion that really fails to live up to expectations, especially because it is so long. Another bit that was a bit cheesy and cliche is the first act of the film. With young Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) dumped with his aunt and uncle after the death of his parents, he is constantly emotionally abused by his family with them constantly favoring their own son, Dudley. The exaggerated and cringy behavior of the family really never lands. It makes the audience hate the aunt and uncle, as they should, but it feels inauthentic and derived from a child's hyperbolic belief of how his guardians raise him, except it is all true. Overwrought and an entirely cliche way to introduce us to this magical world of wizardy, the opening is a rather pedestrian start to the beloved franchise. Finally, the ending is similarly pedestrian with the House of Gryffindor coming from behind after some last minute point additions. It is too much like a classic sports movie with the cliche of the protagonist team always snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat at the hands of the enemy - House of Slytherin, which includes Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and is led by Snape (Alan Rickman) - to really work. It is too happy and cheerful for a film that had already ended happily. Letting Gryffindor lose in the first year would have been a nice touch, as it gives them room to grow even in the game of Quidditch and not just as wizards.

Aside from those issues, however, it is hard to rely find fault in the first foray into the world of Hogwarts and magic. Potter is a modern icon for a reason: his story is damn captivating. With a Spielbergian sense of wonder - just see Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) ride in on a bike akin to E.T. for how Spielbergian it becomes - The Sorcerer's Stone always delivers the goods. It delves into this world of wizardy just enough without ever diving into full-on exposition, instead it sprinkles in mythology every so often to really wet your palette. The refusal to divulge every secret of this world really keeps you hooked in and aching for the next installment to the series in order for more of those questions to be answered and more magical doors unlocked.

What makes the film so undeniably charming, however, has to be the cast. With young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, leading the way, this deeply British cast always makes the film incredibly appealing. Though child actors, the trio of young leads strike the right balance between childish earnestness and strong acting. They retain that confused innocence of their situation - especially Radcliffe throughout, particularly before he gets to Hogwarts - without ever letting their performances devolve into truly annoying childhood roles. Alongside them, the reliable cast of elders deliver excellent performances. John Hurt is delightful in a brief appearance as the wand salesman. Maggie Smith nails her role as the headmistress, really possessing the right look and demeanor for a nice, but expectant headmistress. Richard Harris is lightly used as Dumbledore, but nonetheless a positive and friendly presence. However, nobody really nails their role like Alan Rickman. Reserved, cold, calculating, and menacing, he plays Snape like a villain and makes Harry's confusion regarding Snape's intentions all the more believable. Whenever on screen, Rickman steals the show.

Plot-wise, it is that sense of adventure, awe, and wonder that always delivers the good in The Sorcerer's Stone. With a nice adventure plot, a surprise twist at the end, and a unique world of wizardy constantly getting explored, it is hard not to get swept up in the charm of the world. It feels like a dream world envisioned by a young child as they sleep, except it is put down in movie form. A fully realized fantasy film with compelling characters and a unique spin on a Star Wars-esque world of unique creatures, a chosen one, and the balance between good and evil, this first entry into the beloved young adult series sets the tone and expectations for the later entries perfectly. While a new edition would spruce up some special effects, the faults are somewhat charming and, when the film hits the mark, its gorgeous production design and effects are noticed and appreciated. Though flawed in spots, it is hard to come away not at least enjoying Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with the film being just fun enough for kids and giving adults a world of pure imagination that we had previously stamped out long ago. In watching the first film, it is not hard to see why this became such a cultural touchstone. Its setup, premise, and characters, may be hardly original, but its realization of those elements is so inspired and wondrous that it becomes a film that truly pulls a spell on you.

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