Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone to those outside of the United States, India and the Philippines) brings an already global phenomena to life visually. The character designs, the look and feel of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the atmosphere of Diagon Alley you picture in your head as the pages turn all live up to the expectations that are placed when a film adaptation is announced. The only word best to describe seeing these people, places and things come to life is magical. I know, its cliché but the magic is everywhere imaginable, squeezing into every frame, filling up the many rooms that make up the different locations and making it that much more sensational.
Like the novel for which it’s based on, the film version remains faithful to what author J. K. Rowling initially shook the world with. Of course, there are changes here and there but the overall story being told remains the same and accurately, I might add. The story follows the titular Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), the ‘Boy who Lived’ sent away by the magic community to live with his muggle (non-magic folk) Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and cousin of the same age Dudley (Harry Melling).
After being left on the Dursley doorstep by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry endured 11 harsh years with his aunt and uncle. On his 11th birthday, life as Harry would know it (or it being forced down his throat) would change. One day, a letter arrived specifically for Harry, even putting his bedroom (which is the cupboard under the stairs) on the address. Slowly Vernon and Petunia would lose their wits – shredding, burning, nailing the mail slot shut and finally taking a vacation to the middle of nowhere in a shack on an island.
But still the letters came and finally along with them the half giant Hagrid, with a birthday cake and a revelation. “You’re a Wizard Harry”. And right there, the casting of Daniel Radcliffe was the right choice to portray Harry. Aside from nailing the look, with the famed lightning bolt scar, Radcliffe’s subtleties as an actor stand out. Once Coltrane delivers his line, Radcliffe’s eyes widen in disbelief. His entire life has been a lie including the death of his parents, which Harry was told was due to a car crash.
It’s an outrage, a scandal!
From that moment on, The Sorcerer’s Stone becomes an adventure of discovery. An entire world hidden to us muggles in plain sight. But some places like Diagon Alley need a bit of magic to appear. And Daniel Radcliffe becomes a vessel for us all who adore the books. His face says it all and the curiosity to explore takes over. With the revelation comes harsh truths that Harry’s parents were murdered by a dark wizard who lost his power when trying to kill Harry. This is where the theme of love is established. The love Harry’s mother had for him formed a protective barrier, saving his life and making him famous. Love for the source material is injected into the screenplay by writer Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus. There isn’t a witch or wizard who doesn’t know his name and all the passersby make sure to introduce themselves and give thanks to a boy who has no idea of the magnitude of his fame.
But not all wizards and witches love and adore Harry Potter. Some like Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his goonies Crabbe and Goyle (Jamie Waylett and Joshua Herdman) and Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) cannot contain their disgust over Harry’s celebrity status. But luckily, Harry has Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) on his side as best friends.
For its overwhelmingly lighthearted tone, both Kloves and Columbus balance out Sorcerer’s Stone with the fear – so much fear that witches and wizards cannot bear to speak the villains name and when it is spoken aloud, there’s a hush that can be felt from all of the air being sucked out of the room. One minutes, the mood is all light and carefree and the next, our main trio plus Draco are swept up in a detention session in the Forbidden Forest. Not even Hagrid’s dog Fang can help protect from the dangerous threats the forest possess. Harry surviving the murder turns Voldemort into a grotesque creature, a cursed being forced to live off someone else to survive without a body.
To someone brand new to Harry Potter, Kloves and Columbus keep the villain close to the chest. Obviously the kids suspect Snape based on his cold and bitter stares and Alan Rickman’s performance will chill the bones in your body. Rickman is truly frightening, especially to an 11 year old but it’s his slowed, syllable by syllable speech that will terrify an older viewer. While we’re all distracted by Snape, the real villain of year 1 at Hogwarts School flies under the radar – the person least suspected that makes Voldemort’s followers so dangerous.
During the 152 minute runtime Sorcerer’s Stone boasts, love is but one major theme. Courage, bravery, jealousy, and prejudice can all make their argument for the more prominent theme. One scathing look from pureblood Draco as he guesses Ron comes from the Weasley family or when Aunt Petunia purses her lips when the mention of her sister is brought up. Fiona Shaw’s performance in that moment exudes envy – deep down Petunia wishes she was also a witch.
Year 1 at Hogwarts for Harry comes with a ton of discoveries – new friends, allies and knowledge but a lot of expectations. The boy who lived has more to live up to than he realizes and one of those things comes in the air, soaring above a stadium full of screaming students, professors and fans. Early on, Harry learns of the sport called Quidditch – a rather simple game played on broomstick. During one of his early lessons, Harry learns he has a knack for flying, mostly thanks to his father (who was also Gryffindor seeker). While Quidditch plays a more major role in the novel, the one match Kloves and Columbus feature comes against rival house Slytherin.
The action is fast paced, and the adrenaline is high, easily becoming a standout sequence that thrills and chills. An energetic break in the investigation Harry, Ron and Hermione have been conducting. But it’s a sequence that also pushes the story forward, not completely derailing the momentum Kloves’s script slowly builds over the course of 152 minutes.
What makes Sorcerer’s Stone a remarkable adaptation is the magic itself. From basic spells that repair a pair of glasses to magicked instruments to the sensation when a wand chooses its wizard or even flying and finally the few beasts that get introduced, Sorcerer’s Stone captures the imagination and makes the impossible feel real. Add in a one-of-a-kind score by John Williams and a gothic production design to round out the technical marvels that Columbus manages to lasso into one unforgettable experience. But the heart and soul of Sorcerer’s Stone belongs to Daniel, Rupert, and Emma. Their chemistry together feels natural with dialogue ripped straight from the pages. All the mannerisms and dynamics between the 3 leads are executed down to the letter. Sorcerer’s Stone lives up to the potential the wizarding world establishes leaving this muggle in awe of the spectacle.
Screenplay By: Steve Kloves
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Music By: John Williams
Cinematography: John Seale
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Warwick Davis, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith
Where to Watch: Max
Edited By: Richard Francis-Bruce
Release Date: November 16, 2001
Running Time: 2 Hours 32 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Based On: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling