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Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone

review by Rob Gonsalves

Chris Columbus

Steve Kloves
based on the novel by
J.K. Rowling

David Heyman

John Seale

John Williams

Richard Francis-Bruce


Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
Rupert Grint
(Ron Weasley)
Emma Watson
(Hermione Granger)
John Cleese
(Nearly Headless Nick)
Richard Harris
Maggie Smith
(Minerva McGonagall)
Robbie Coltrane
Alan Rickman
Zoë Wanamaker
(Madame Hooch)
Richard Griffiths
(Uncle Vernon)
Fiona Shaw
(Aunt Petunia)
Ian Hart
(Professor Quirrell)
Warwick Davis
(Professor Flitwick)
Verne Troyer
John Hurt
(Mr. Ollivander)
Julie Walters
(Mrs. Molly Weasley)
Tom Felton
(Draco Malfoy)

MPAA rating: PG
Running time: 152m
U.S. release: November 16, 2001
Video availability: VHS - DVD
Official website

I came to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the movie version of the first of seven books in J.K. Rowling's intensely popular series, as a non-fan -- or, rather, someone who hasn't read any of the books, a neutral party. I was curious: Would the movie win me over, or was it simply a valentine to Harry Potter enthusiasts? I can report that the film has a definite girth problem -- at two hours and thirty-two minutes, it stays up at least half an hour past its bedtime -- but for the most part, this is a smooth and confident beginning to what we can all hope will be a first-rate all-ages adventure septet -- another challenge to King George and his Jedi knights.

One hears from Harry Potter fans (who make themselves heard quite often, to the benefit of newbies like me) that this longish movie leaves out too much, or rushes things; perhaps only a four-part BBC adaptation could have enacted all of Rowling's maiden voyage to Hogswarts and still maintained a steady pulse. And, yes, the last act does skitter along at a breathless, one-damn-thing-after-another pace. But if you go into the action without having committed the text to memory, you won't be lost: This is the simplest of stories, the one about the boy who discovers his destiny as a Force for Good against the Minions of Evil, and who must find the Valuable Powerful Thing before the M's of E get their claws on it.

Agreeably enough represented by Daniel Radcliffe, Harry is the classic Joseph Campbell archetype of the Hero born with greatness in him, parentless and humble, feeling unready to do battle with wickedness but doing it just the same. The movie follows him from his wretched life with his hateful aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths, two of many esteemed British lights having fun playing it to the rafters) to his triumph -- if not final victory, according to the later books, so I gather -- against Sauron, uh, I mean Vader, um, I mean Voldemort. Fully the first hour and a half is a leisurely tour of Hogswarts, the boarding school where promising youths like Harry learn to harness their magical powers; I could've watched a whole movie about that, and I suppose the slight familiarity of action -- cookie-cutter thrills and spills -- is where some viewers may find disappointment.

It's easily overlooked. The odd details and rituals of a young sorcerer's life are compelling enough, what with high-voltage divertissements like Quidditch and even higher-voltage stars like Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane (who makes Hagrid, Harry's protector, the most perfect kindly-uncle slab of beef imaginable for such a fable), and the incomparable Alan Rickman, who plays the withering Professor Snape (an ideal name for a Rickman character) with such silky, insinuating menace he hardly even has to move. Rickman isn't around as often as I would've liked, but even if the movie were otherwise tripe, he alone would make it well worth the better part of an afternoon.

Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves have delivered a high-class piece of inspirational kiddie pulp; it's up to the book's readers to determine how well the pair have transcribed Rowling. Ornamented with burnished photography by John Seale that manages to look both red-blooded and British, and with one of John Williams' less intrusive scores, this is certainly the most sumptuous all-ages entertainment in recent years (though in terms of visual jazz, derring-do, and rocketing plot, last March's Spy Kids may still have the lead). If nothing else, the film serves as a terrific commercial for Rowling's books, for the few of us who still haven't dipped into them. I intend to crack open my copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (yes, the original British version) and move on to the others -- as soon as I've re-read my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, of course.