Under Harry Potter's Spell
While reading Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone, I knew this popular childrenís story had the potential to be a terrific movie. And I couldnít wait to see it! Incredible visuals practically jump off the pages. Flying broomsticks, live chess pieces, invisibility cloaks, and shape-changing creatures cry out for treatment by todayís special effects artists. Although I felt concern about whether or not the film version would enchant me as much as J.K. Rowlingís delightful book, I neednít have worried. This cinematic gem works like a wizardís charm. Everything from Harryís fast-paced airborne Quidditch match to the ferocious three-headed dog named "Fluffy" appears on screen almost exactly as I pictured the characters and events in my own mind. Itís uncanny.
Still, I never dreamed the film would be such an overwhelming success. Even standing in line to buy tickets turned out to be an adventure for me. Most of the people were purchasing multiple tickets and seemed very excited about it. One woman had driven to Pueblo from Gardner to get tickets for two carloads of kids. She told about buying copies of the book for all the first and second graders in her district. "I wanted the students to learn about Harry Potter whether they could afford it or not," she explained. Another lady described her nine-year old sonís wish to celebrate his birthday seeing Harry Potter, so she planned to take him and all his friends to the movie. Everyone in line wanted to share a similar Harry Potter story.
Many of these people said they planned to view the first Harry Potter film more than once --- and the sooner the better. Thereís something immensely satisfying about watching a youngster discover the magic force within himself and then use it to fight evil. Sound familiar? It should. The 11-year old Potter, as played by Daniel Radcliffe (TVís David Copperfield), evokes memories of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Is it a coincidence that classmate Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) projects Princess Leiaís strength of character or that best buddy Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) shares Han Soloís reluctance to be a hero? I donít think so. Capitalizing on a proven formula is more likely.
But whoís complaining? These kids fit their roles perfectly. Radcliffe won my admiration with his clean cut, wide-eyed Harry Potter interpretation. And I loved the way newcomer Watson endows Hermione with a cool intelligence and appealing vulnerability. Sheís a real charmer! Grint (from the upcoming Thunderpants) may be hard to understand in some scenes because of his thick accent, but his Weasley comes across as quite endearing. The development of a strong friendship among these three students is one of the highlights of the movie --- as it was in the book.
The world of Hogwarts, where Harry and his friends learn about Witchcraft and Wizardry, came to life for me more vividly than I expected, thanks to superb direction by Chris Columbus (Home Alone). "My cinematographer, John Seale (The Perfect Storm), and production designer, Stuart Craig (The English Patient), understand the richness and complexity of Harry Potterís world," Columbus maintains. "In Hogwarts, we wanted to create a realistic, magical place, a school that the viewer would believe actually existed."
Hereís one Muggle (a non-magic human) who did believe. I marveled at the grandeur of the mysterious institution, especially its ever-moving staircases and portraits that seemed to be alive. The general meeting room/dining hall took my breath away with its fiery wall sconces, long tables, and suspended candles. And I stared in astonishment while the Sorting Hat, an ancient rumpled witchís cap, assigned students to various houses at Hogwarts. Naturally, I wanted Harry placed in Gryffindor, not Slytherin, where his rival, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) took up residence. (Draco Malfoy --- isnít that a wonderful name for a bully?) Felton (Anna and the King) excels as the snobbish, underhanded Malfoy. Every time he smirked or sneered, I wanted to send him to bed without any chocolate frogs.
Casting top-notch British actors in supporting roles helped give this whimsical film a touch of class. Standouts include Maggie Smith (Washington Square) as the understanding, shape-shifting Headmistress McGonagall, Alan Rickman (Blow Dry) as snarly-voiced Professor Snape, and Robbie Coltrane (From Hell) as Hagrid, the friendly giant who rescues Harry from his abusive aunt and uncle. Only Richard Harris (The Field) looks somewhat out of place here. I wanted Headmaster Dumbledore to be quirkier and a little less pompous. I was also disappointed in Ian Hartís (Aberdeen) low- key performance as the ubiquitous Professor Quirrell and by a brief scene revealing Harryís archenemy, the evil wizard Voldemort (Richard Bremmer). By the time Voldemort came on screen, I was expecting something more spectacular. (Filmmakers probably knew the movie was running a bit too long at 2 hours and 20 minutes).
Although Iím not planning to see Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone again, I eagerly await the second film featuring this budding master wizard. (Itís scheduled for release next year.) So what if the first Harry Potter movie is no Wizard of Oz-like classic? It does represent quality filmmaking and offers compelling proof that magic and movies go together like ABRA and CADABRA. Thatís good enough for me.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG" for some scary moments and mild language.)