Director Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane
It isn't stretching the truth to say that Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone has arrived with the weight of the world on its shoulders. There isn't a more adored chunk of literature than the boy-wizard series. There's a sense that, post-September 11, people need something to make them feel good again. And Hollywood has to redress the balance after an annus horribilis of shoddy budget-busters. The good news is that Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone gets so much right. The bad news is there's a hefty ““But...”” in there.
Where does Harry Potter conjure up the goods? Well, it's all about details, and the details in Harry Potter are superlative, from the suburban dreariness of Privet Drive, to teeming wizard street Diagon Alley, to Hogwarts itself, an exultant medieval citadel of soaring spires, shadowy passageways and swivelling staircases. The effects, too, are mostly knock out, be they throwaway (edible, hopping chocolate frogs; baby dragons) or essential (Harry's invisibility cloak; the much-anticipated Quidditch match).
The esteemed line-up of British thesps also fulfill their duty of breathing vivid life into their characters. Robbie Coltrane furnishes most of the laughs as genial lug Hagrid, Maggie Smith is a stern but benevolent Professor McGonagall and Alan Rickman, as sinister potions wizard Professor Snape, stops time dead each time he appears on screen. Okay, so he's a peripheral figure, but he is set up brilliantly for future chapters.
At the risk of sounding scrooge-y, it's the kids who don't hold the attention as well. Appearance-wise, Daniel Radcliffe is perfect, with all the charm and English moppet ingredients to make a great Harry, but he's not always so enchanting in the acting department. You can practically hear Chris Columbus barking directions: ““Open your eyes wide - - look surprised!””, ““Furrow your brow - - you're really mad!”” Rupert Grint, as Harry's best friend Ron Weasley, milks his comedy stooge moments, but spends much of the film with a look of mild indigestion on his face, leaving Emma Watson as bossy Hermione top of the class by default.
Thankfully, though, that's it as far as nasty surprises are concerned. Columbus sticks faithfully to JK Rowling's story, striking a neat balance between the action, the comedy and the book's darker traits. The challenge was always going to be to make an entertaining film out of Rowling's weakest book, as well as establishing the Hogwarts universe to the uninitiated. Along the way, he may have sacrificed the sense of wonder that, say, Terry Gilliam, would have brought, but will Harry Potter fans really give a hoot? No way. What's important is that all the novel's best bits are there on the screen, and that Harry Potter the movie is worthy enough to fulfill its destiny as a children's classic. Roll on The Chamber Of Secrets.
Harry Potter's adventures in wizard-land are cozy and comfortable in Chris Columbus' faithful adaptation. Daniel Radcliffe's not the greatest actor, but at least he looks the part. A rewarding and charming first stop on the HP franchise trail.