Cinema Signal:

Harry Potter Boxset Books
The Complete Collection
by J.K. Rowling

(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)

. "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone"

The first thing to consider here is whether this movie version of the hit string of books by novelist J.K. Rowling is purely a children's story or if it might encompass the interests of the adult world. For my time and money, this movie installment plays to the young crowd only. Adults who enjoy it would do so by seeing it through the eyes of a child. Which is one way of saying that some adults might well enjoy it, but adult fare it's not.

Adults can certainly appreciate the colorful imagination that created it and which was translated to the screen with expected film wizardry. To have been less of a technical achievement would have been cinema suicide. So, we can all agree, I think, that camerawork (John Seale), costuming, production design (Stuart Craig), makeup, etc. are pro all the way in creating the Rowling universe. One could also assume that its faithfulness to the original (Steven Kloves, screenplay) will ensure its appeal for its intended audience.

For a more discerning audience, however, the ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat anytime you wish, that is, depart from the strict laws of the physical world, lessens the promise of storytelling virtuosity. Such release from reality's discipline can be a blessing for a work of imagination or a curse. It's probably fair to say that the regularity of such liberties in this work is part of the fun for the kids and helps explain its drawing power at the boxoffice, while a stricter eye might take exception to the ease with which every lurking danger is so easily thwarted by pulling an escape from the sorcerer's bag of tricks.

The other part of children's escapist fare is to delineate the characters clearly between good and evil. Thus we start with perfect Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) being raised by his decency deprived step dad, mom and brother, all of whose villainy in the way they treat good Harry is beyond redemption. Little do they realize the destiny in store for their defenseless charge. But they learn a bit or two about this when Harry turns 11, wizardry age as it turns out, and is duly informed that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses magical powers by none less than Sorcerer-Gatekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who proceeds to rescue Potter from his step-family's bondage and taken to sorcerer's school for training.

Potter's reputation precedes him since the story about how evil Lord 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' Voldemort (Richard Bremmer) couldn't kill him is now legendary in the society of sorcerers. What's more, he is regarded by Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) with some deference and regard for the potential of his powers. He will not let them down. But, it's all so easy.

He plays his part as a "seeker" in an airborne game based loosely on soccer and earns points and school-wide respect for the outcome. He elicits enough information from the reticent Hagrid to take him through several adventures on the way to discovering the importance of the "sorcerer's stone" and leads his little team of faithful sidekicks into a succession of dangers in order to retrieve it.

There's an unwillingness on the part of the filmmakers, led by director Chris Columbus, to take their audience anywhere near a level of discomfort and they therefore deliver the quickest solutions to problems and rescues from the merest threats before you've had a chance to form one bead of perspiration on your little forehead. We don't want anything too challenging mucking up our dreams (or our love for the book), do we? Whether novelist Rowlings intended it or not, the movie is strictly a fairy tale.

Richard Harris conforms himself suitably to the role of Headmaster Dumbledore while Maggie Smith uses her stern look to give everyone what they might expect from a headmistress. Alan Rickman as professor Serverus Snape is, perhaps, the most in control of the process of acting as he employs his special gifts for the unexpected with his patented roundhouse diction and pregnant pauses. He's a scream in a picture that badly needs more acting inspiration.

Robbie Coltrane is totally affectionate as the outsized Hagrid, a sort of island of comfort in a sea of turbulence. He's the one with all the secrets Potter doesn't know about and parses them out as the story needs require. It's a clever story telling technique. Just when Potter is up against a wall, Hagrid supercharges him with a new morsel of information, impelling him to the next danger, and mutters, "Oh, I shouldn't have said that".

In the children's roles you can detect the work of a screening committee intent on properly visualizing the inhabitants of the bestselling series of books that have charmed millions. Radcliffe, with his round eyeglasses and schoolboy simplicity seems tailor made for the role, and this extends to his two sidekicks, the studious snippet Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and red-headed rascal Ronald "Ron" Weasley (Rupert Grint). Equally spot on is Tom Felton as the bad kid Draco Malfoy with his slicked back blonde hair and oily disposition.

But, the final weakness that sinks this ship in terms of responding to it in the manner intended, is the limited acting skills of these young ones. Most of all, Radcliffe, who goes through the movie as though he's overwhelmed by the circumstances most of the time, rising to full expression when he must. He is unable to harness the potentials of the role nor to convey anything of his character's latent power or destiny. In short, he lacks the flair of a reader's imagination.

Perhaps, though, the blame for this is a too heavy directorial hand. Originality might have flowered under a lighter touch and the original literary work better served. And, while I don't pretend to have read the book, this movie derived from it does little to enchant my interest in pursuing it.

Estimated cost: $130,000,000. Domestic gross: $317,000,000. Foreign gross: $651,100,000.

Click for full list of movie reviews

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Links to reviews of prior episodes:
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

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Harry's little sorcerer sidekicks
Rupert Grint and Emma Watson
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