Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Review by Susu
Director: Chris Columbus, father of four!
Producer: David Heyman
Music: John Williams
Rating: Super Star Destroyer
My first reaction to the film was, "Gee, Kelly was right!" -- see Kelly Grosskreutz's crossover stories called Harry Potter and the Star Wars Relation -- that Harry Potter is a mythic story, with extremely strong parallels to the Star Wars arcs. This movie, in particular, underscored what Star Wars could have been if it had a decent screenwriter, and people who respected each other's talents and who understood what makes a solid movie.
Bear in mind that Star Wars movies are as much advertisements for Industrial Lights and Magic, pushing the special effects envelope. There's plot and intrigue, but crummy, stilted dialog and no room for anyone's creativity except George's. That's okay by me, I love Star Wars.
But this movie didn't require ILM to push the envelope; it was at it's core, a solid story. It happens to be based on Star Wars and Alice in Wonderland and many other epic type of tales, filled with mystery, adventure, and a large dose of surrealism. The casting was perfect ... It's hard to emphasize how perfect. The students, Dudley, McGonagal, Snape, Madame Hooch, everyone in this movie seemed to be made for the part they played. It's really quite astonishing! They were also given latitude to really act, making for wonderful surprises and great performances.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the (soon to be) seven Harry Potter books, had been promised by David Heyman that the movies would be true to her books. This was a good business decision, for the legions of young fans who read the books would expect nothing less. However, for movies, that could be an onerous task, but Columbus made judicious cuts and excellent decisions regarding what to keep. The look and feel of the movie were an almost exact match of how people pictured Harry, Hogwarts and other aspects of the characters and setting. Even if they did divert, they did so in a positive manner. For instance, I always had seen Professor McGonagal as a fat, short witch with her robes flying around her. Instead, the cast included a trim and proper Maggie Smith, in a beautifully tailored velveteen green dress/robe and a stylishly tilted hat. She was not at all what I imagined, but better. I happily let my fat McGonagal go, because 1) I'd obviously gotten it wrong and 2) Maggie's was better than mine. Also, I really disliked Peeves the annoying poltergeist, and thank goodness he was axed from the script. Never missed him.
It's a rich, dense movie, entertaining whether you'd read the books or not. This is one case where reading the books in advance would be a good thing. That way, you're more astonished when you first see the dining hall with its enchanted ceiling, or you wonder to yourself questions like, "How do muggles families equip their little witches and wizards without 1) wizard money or 2) knowledge of Diagon Alley?" Runt believes that Hogwarts sends someone to help those families in their first year, just like Hagrid was sent to help Harry.
For those among us who are Star Wars aficionados (and who, among us, is not??) Williams' score sounds too familiar ... there are strains of the haunting Anakin's Theme in the soundtrack that kept pushing me back to Tatooine, even while images of the magical Hogwarts loomed in the English countryside. And I kept thinking the Hogwarts Express didn't look as grand as the private train used by British rock group Queen in their "Breakthrough" video. It's good that the story is located in a place that is familiar, but it might have been a teeny bit overexposed.
Another negative criticism: The DVD requires you to pass "tests" in order to see cut scenes and other features. Basically, you have to play the game. Here is where having played the GameBoy cartridge or reading the books would help you. Or, just wait till a child or someone childish does it for you. I would have simply not bothered, even though the cut scenes were funny and good. There are also PC-only features that required your computer to be online to use. I didn't even bother. This is a badly overthought special features section.
Whatever -- it's a great movie. See it, then read the book. Or read the books, then see it. Either way, J.K. Rowling's tale of an orphan and his destiny is one of the greatest tales to be told. It deserves space on the book and video case right next to that other multi-book/multi-movie epic about those other orphans and their destinies.
Can hardly wait for the next one: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. See you then!