Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Movie Review
The first film in the Harry Potter franchise introduces us to a fantastic young cast and a magical world for old and young. Being a witch or wizard has never been more fun!
Genre: Adventure / Fantasy
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, Matthew Lewis, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Warwick Davis, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling & Richard Griffiths.
Run Time: 152 min.
US Release: 16 November 2001
UK Release: 16 November 2001
German Release: 22 November 2001
With Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to be released this fall and my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them out since 2016, I decided to review all Harry Potter films to complete my J.K. Rowling movie posts, beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The novels of J. K. Rowling were my major source of literature during my teenage years. In fact, I remember a lot of people in my school reading them in class or during lunch breaks. The world of Hogwarts drew me in from the first moment it was described in the book, especially due to the characters of Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, which were always very relatable. So, I was of course excited when the silver screen adaptation of the first book was released in theatres, back in 2001, not disappoint me one bit. Even today, these movies are some of my favourites to watch around the holiday seasons of Halloween and Christmas.
--- WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! ---
The biggest praise I can give the writers of this magical blockbuster is how close they stuck to the story of the novel. Very little is changed or left out, which helps create the visual marvel this movie is. The Philosopher’s Stone is more than a simple fantasy tale, though, it is a great family flick, entertaining both: young and old, as well as containing a great message for children, while never shying back from showing darker aspects of life. This gives the film a perfect balance, making it suitable for fans of all ages.
However, this first Harry Potter instalment also has its fair share of flaws. Chris Columbus spends the majority of time setting up the story and characters through expository scenes, to introduce the viewers to this world, leading the film to be a little too long in its runtime. Then there is the fact that compared to the book; some of the plot lines came off a little too childish. This is especially true of the dialogue, as Radcliff and his young co-workers did not always manage to deliver them as intended.
The cast consists primarily of young actors and actresses, with many starring in their first big-budget production but everyone having exceptional chemistry with one another. While they didn’t always manage to give a great performance, they all did a terrific job and without them, these movies would never have achieved the popularity and success they reached.
Daniel Radcliffe was a brilliant casting choice to play Harry Potter. The boy did not only resemble the character, as described by Rowling, he also possesses a lot of natural charisma in addition to likeability. Harry himself is a kid who has gone through a lot of turmoil at his young age; his parents were murdered by the black magician Voldemort, his relatives - with whom he lives - are terrible people; abusing him bodily as well as mentally. Yet he is very relatable and contains a lot of good qualities, which make him the perfect role model for children. He inspires courage, bravery, loyalty and a sense for discovery.
Rupert Grint portrays Ron Weasley, giving a remarkable rendition of the character. Ron is an average boy, overseen by many but loyal to those giving him a chance at friendship. Emma Watson as Hermione Granger was possibly the wisest casting decision; she is intuitive and has a natural presence on screen. Hermione is being misunderstood as a wise-ass bookworm but contains qualities that make her a good role model for young girls.
Draco Malfoy played by Tom Felton is a slimy, evil, little brat. He resembles the average bully at any school but behaves partially more mischievous. Felton, just as his colleagues gave a tremendous performance for his young age.
Alan Rickman was one of the best English actors, with his role as Prof. Snape possibly being the best performance he has ever given! His character has a mysterious presence, never sure if he has darker motives or if he is just a mean-spirited wizard. Maggie Smith, on the other hand, was lovely as Minerva McGonagall, a strict but warm-hearted witch, who is the head of the Gryffindor house.
Hagrid, played by Robbie Coltrane, is the groundskeeper of Hogwarts and the kindest, sweetest, as well as one of the most loyal characters of this franchise. Coltrane was brilliantly cast as the character, giving the half-giant nice emotional depth. Richard Harris was just as I always envisioned Dumbledore to be. It is a shame the actor passed away before the film series ended.
The Dursleys are some of the most malicious characters seen in a movie. They are envious of what Harry is, thus taking it upon themselves to make his life a living misery, even though they are his only relatives and should have taken care of him.
Cinematographer John Seale did fantastic work by bringing Rowling’s world to life on the silver screen! Steady close-ups, two/three shots, as well as hauntingly beautiful panoramic segments, are used to capture as much of the enchanting setting and loveable characters as possible. The mild action segments are well captured. To put it simply; the camera work is flawless! The same can’t be said about the computer imagery, however, which are mostly badly dated by today’s standards. While it does use a good mix of practical (the costumes) and CG effects, most of the animated features or green screen scenes (especially the Quidditch match) are notably dated, distracting at times from the main plot.
It is also worth mentioning that the colour, as well as the lighting in this movie, is marvellous and round up the overall experience at Hogwarts. The strong golden halls, the candle lights and the silver-blue tones during night shots are not only magical but make also for a very family friendly atmosphere that enhances the magical feeling.
The musical score was composed by none other than John Williams, who once again creates an unforgettable soundtrack that, just as the lighting and colour, enhance the feeling of magical mystery. The soundtrack created will always be linked with this franchise, drawing a smile on fans’ faces when listening to it.
Verdict: The first Harry Potter is one of my favourite childhood movies and a very faithful adaptation of the novel by J.K. Rowling. While the young cast did not always deliver their dialogues perfectly, they all gave marvellous portrayals that played an important factor in the success of the movie. The performances by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, especially, were outstanding! The older cast was great as well but they knew that the children were the true stars of the plot, never trying to steal the spotlight. The plot paired with the fantastic cinematography made for a visual marvel, full of mystery and awe. The weakness it has is that it takes an incredible amount of time setting up the world and its characters, which leads this magical blockbuster to be a little bit too long, as well as the CGI effects being outdated by today’s standards. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a great start into the franchise and a fun family movie, deserving an 8.5 out of 10.