I liked Star Wars as a kid and I appreciated Lord of the Rings, but I never loved or coveted either them. The amount of films released year-to-year means Mashers Club always has a very robust backlog of films that have yet to be touched upon. Until now, I’ve only reviewed a single film from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World series – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Like how many feel about The Hobbit or Star Wars’ Prequel Trilogy, however, Fantastic Beasts simply hasn’t captured my attention in the same ways. You see, I loved the Harry Potter books and I loved the movies, as well. I think it’s a lot of the reason it has taken until now to delve into the series, if not also because it has taken until now to own every film on Blu-Ray. I love writing reviews on Mashers Club as well, hence why I have done it as long as I have, but, at times, when it comes time to look back to the past, even at my absolute favorites, it can feel tasking or obligatory, that isn’t the case with Harry Potter though. I’ve been excited to write about them for a while now, sincerely curious on how they’ll perform on The List.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (unless you’re smart enough to know what a Philosopher is, unlike me and my country) is a 2001 fantasy film directed by Chris Columbus, based on the J.K. Rowling novel of the same name released in 1997. As you can surmise from the name alone, the story follows a young Harry Potter in his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That, in itself, is only a surface-level summary on the film itself, however. Many years prior, an evil and powerful wizard named Lord Voldemort (a wizard so heinous his name goes unsaid in day-to-day life) wreaked havoc throughout the Wizarding World. Harry’s parents were killed by a Killing Curse dealt by The Dark Lord, leaving only Harry to survive the affair, earning him the nickname as “The Boy Who Lived” and his status as a famous wizard. Since then, Lord Voldemort has disappeared and Harry has been sent off to live with The Dursleys. The Dursleys are his only living family, a group of muggles (non-magic humans) that include both his aunt and uncle, and his cousin Dudley. The Dursleys are a crude bunch, with Harry’s legal guardians shunning him off in-favor of their own son. Kept away from his backgrounds, his arrival at Hogwarts is a cultural-shock, as Harry finds himself befriending new characters and learning more about the inner-workings of the world around him, and the secrets pertaining to the fallen Dark Lord.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Philosophic Stone is comprised of a star-studded cast, which includes newcomers Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, among others, as well as seasoned actors such as Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, and Maggie Smith. The film received a warm critical reception from critics and moviegoers alike, and was an enormous financial success, grossing nearly a billion-dollars at the worldwide box-office.
The film begins in brisk fashion. I honestly hadn’t remember how fast-paced the film was, with scenes breezing by with such haste I almost thought I was watching the film at 1.50x speed. Things begin with Harry left at the Dursleys doorstep, then, Harry’s eleven in the house, next, we’re at the zoo, then, the house is filled with envelopes, after, we’re at an island, and then, Harry’s going to wizard school, and we’re hanging out with Hagrid. All of this happens in the first half-hour of the film. Suffice to say, they don’t mess around with this film, and, with a run-time of two and a half hours, our premiere foray into Hogwarts is stuffed to the brim with content.
Likewise, the charm of its character, such as the dim Ron and the righteous, know-it-all Hermione are wonderful and lovable, whereas Daniel Radcliffe’s portray of the titular character provides a likable every-man (boy?) which makes it easy for one to insert themselves into the adventure.
The first Harry Potter is cheesier and more cliched than you might remember, with convenient occurrences and a sheer lack of subtlety. Some scenes can feel disheveled thrown in with the series as a whole. Like secrecy from muggles being so important, and yet, Harry’s able to stumble upon the Weasley’s in broad daylight running through brick-walls at the train station. Scenes can sometimes even feel wedged in or ham-fist for the sake of incorporating a magic counterpart to whichever mundane muggle activity they can think of. “That’s Wizard’s chess!” might exclaim an excited Ron Weasley, but should he truly be that excited? Harry’s the only one who hadn’t seen it before. In-fact, is it Wizard’s chess or is it merely chess to you? It’s fun, but showy. The school houses and the point-system that bends at the story’s will, the way Ron’s second-long interest in Wizard Chess proves significant to the film, etc. I love it all in the end, but I’m not blind to how shoehorned certain things are.
The school’s impracticality is oozing charm, but, also, of course, impracticality. It isn’t a problem for this film, but, for the series’ progression into maturer themes. At worst, the film can be over-the-top and silly, but, at best, and I’d say, usually, it’s exactly what the first installment should’ve been and was. A lot of the reason the Harry Potter series stuck the landing with so many is because of the way it matured with its audience, allowing itself to stay relevant with its core-audience and expand. It’s imagination is so vast that it can make you overlook how over capacity it is with backstory, foreshadowing and world-building, and how often and far its mind is beyond the story at hand.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone may not be the series’ peak. It may not represent the best from the performances we came to affectionately adore, but it’s a solid launchpad. It is entertaining through and through, and introduces us to an enthusiastic, new fantasy world. It’s a fun film which sees young-actors given an imaginative story set on an epic-scale. If I wrote this review on its release, I would have said it bodes well for what’s soon to come (in less eloquent words, I was five, after all). Being able to write this review nearly two-decades later, I can say the same thing with complete and total certainty.