When you're the chosen one, like the boy wizard Harry Potter, expectations surrounding your arrival can be quite high. The same can be said for the film adaptation about said boy wizard, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And while the young wonder might not let his magic school chums down, the movie chronicling his early wizard years could use a little lift.
Which isn't to say that Sorcerer's Stone, the first Harry Potter movie based on J.K. Rowling's inexplicably successful book series, is a boring movie. In fact, Rowling's exceptional world, involving young magic makers at a British wizardry prep school, transfers to the screen with a general creativity and charm in the hands of director Chris Columbus. The author's Cinderella-esque tale of a boy who gets invited to the most magical ball of them all, kicks off with a classic sensibility, almost like a modern Dickens.
From there, getting to the celebrated Hogwarts School is a treat, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the rest of the incoming first-years (including Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger) buy the proper wizard tools, find the elusive Track 9 3/4 at the train station, and travel in boats by moonlight to the gothic center of higher learning. Columbus weaves the special effects so smoothly into the narrative as to make the magic nearly matter-of-fact.
But after we get the general gist of life at Hogwarts, Sorcerer's Stone loses some of its sheen. The collection of characters to which we're introduced early -- Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall; Alan Rickman as the eerie Professor Snape; the delightful Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid -- aren't utilized well enough to provide the necessary oomph. They're stuck within Steve Kloves' (Wonder Boys) light, thin plot, with their roles eventually reduced to side characters, comic relief, or vague red herrings.
And the flatness of the narrative goes hand-in-hand with some of Sorcerer's Stone look as well. Save for a couple of sequences, Columbus just doesn't provide enough visual wow for such magical subject matter. I know that some of the action is meant to be dark, but the overall look of the movie doesn't have the punch that the on-screen activity demands. In the end, there are too many missed opportunities for maximum thrills.
A prime exception is the truly wonderful centerpiece of the film, a prep school Quidditch match. For the uninitiated, Quidditch is a soccer style game played completely in mid-air, with players on broomsticks. Picture a combination of The Wizard of Oz and Rollerball.
Columbus' take on this game is superb. There's speedy action, seamless effects, and some thrilling excitement. The design of the match provides a wonderful combination of visual styles, with mid-20th century prep school clothes amidst medieval set design. The scene is, by far, the highlight of the film, much as the pod race was in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (oddly enough, another somewhat disappointing movie about a chosen boy).
But once we get back to the tale of our trio of little wizards, the plodding plot returns. And unfortunately, Radcliffe, as our hero, doesn't seem too enthused by much of the wild goings-on. His school cronies, on the other hand, are just great -- Grint, as Ronald, is wide-eyed and sympathetic, and Watson, as the precocious Hermione, is smart and energetic, taking a bigger bite out of this movie than any other actor.
While Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone does score points by giving visuals to some wildly fantastic stuff, the total picture lacks polish, and feels like a mild setup to future movies. Similar to X-Men, we get an environment being introduced just for the sake of future movies. That creates anticipation among fans, but shortchanges those watching this one.
The release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone coincides with another Harry Potter milestone -- the beginning of production on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, scheduled to hit theaters in mid-November, 2002. Stone is already expected to break box office records, including a possible run at Titanic (highly unlikely, if you ask me). That means there's one thing Warner Brothers will be saying about young Harry for the foreseeable future... long live The Boy Who Lived.
Harry Potter's DVD is as inexplicable as it is ambitious. An enormous two-disc set, the DVD promises tantalizing "never before seen footage," but good luck trying to find it. Disc one is the standard movie, and disc two amounts to what is best described as an intricate game for kids. It's all designed as a puzzle -- to do anything you have to twist the right bricks to gain access, just like Harry and Hagrid did in London. If you didn't memorize the pattern, you'll have to go back to the movie (swapping discs in the process -- though if you screw up enough times, the game will eventually show you the answer). To open more and more of the disc you have to complete more and more idiotic tasks -- picking a wand, mixing potions, and the like. I gave up after half an hour of this nonsense, having exposed little more than a collection of interview clips. Warner Brothers: I appreciate that you've tried to do something beyond the usual with this highly anticipated release, but for us adults, give us a back door to the special features. We just don't have time for this Hogwarts -- I mean, hogwash.
School's in session.
In his second big-screen outing, adolescent wizard Harry Potter is blessed with enough cinematic magic to overcome several of the very same problems that left last year's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" feeling a little protracted and rambling.
Sure "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" spends twice as much screen time on atmosphere and adventure scenes than on plot and character. But this time around every episode seems relevant, which is a vast improvement over last year's film, bloated as it was with Quidditch matches and monster moments that didn't advance the plot one iota.
Returning director Chris Columbus retains the enchanted ambiance as Harry heads to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year of instruction in the black arts. But nothing is ever easy for our young hero, as unseen forces seem to be conspiring against him -- not the least of which is some kind of elusive beast that's loose in Hogwarts' halls, turning students to stone.
Continue reading: Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets Review
Date of birth
13th March, 1989
When you're the chosen one, like the boy wizard Harry Potter, expectations surrounding your arrival...