Friday, January 20, 2023

Green Phoenix - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Review

A poster depicting a young boy with glasses, an old man with glasses, a young girl holding books, a redheaded boy, and a large bearded man in front of a castle, with an owl flying. The left poster also features an adult man, an old woman, and a train, with the titles being "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".

With the new year now well underway and my plans for new content reviews needing to wait until the shows and series are either finished or progressed enough to truly gather a sense of their quality, I feel it more prudent than ever to come up with more classic or nostalgic film reviews. And of all the series' that have a massive impact upon my childhood and teenage years, the Harry Potter franchise arguably more than any other franchise helped to define it.

These days the reputation of the Harry Potter franchise has, in some ways, been colored by the unfortunate behavior of its creator in recent years. This has left many fans wary of the franchises' new releases (particularly things under the now generalized Wizarding World brand) and discussions of the work removed the author are often difficult among online circles.

Despite this, I still recall the sheer thrill of waiting in line for the new book releases (something I have never done for any book release before or since) and the costume contests at new movie releases (I would win quite a few times as Harry Potter as I look a lot like the character in the book). It is with this in mind that I came to the realization as to what I would focus my aims on in 2023 in terms of associated franchises.

Just as my early articles had the James Bond series every few weeks (even if we didn't get all the way through them at the time), throughout this year, I will be doing a review of each of the Harry Potter films. Of course, doing this requires that I start at the very beginning, with the black sheep of the Harry Potter series (at least in my opinion).

From 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (because I grew up in the United States and this is what the film is called for us. It's what I grew up with and I will be referring to it as such throughout the review below). So let's get into it.

  • Directed by Chris Columbus
  • Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Runtime: 152 Minutes
  • Rating: PG


Harry Potter is a young orphan living in the cupboard under the stairs' of his abusive relatives home. With few prospects for a better life and a history of strange occurrences, Harry's life is suddenly changed when a strange letter is delivered to him from a mysterious school named Hogwarts.
He soon learns that he is not only a wizard capable of magic (upon receiving a proper education from Hogwarts) but a rather famous child owed to him defeating an evil wizard named Voldemort when he was only a child, though the nature of how Harry defeated him is unknown to everyone.
Harry's education is filled with strange circumstances and amazing adventures, including the meeting of his two best friends: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. But when the three of them uncover a plot to steal a powerful artifact hidden in the school, it will be up to Harry to save the day once again.



When I speak of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone as being the "black sheep" of the series, I mean in terms of its general tone and far more childish aim then its successor films. One of the key strengths of "she who shall not be named"'s literary style was its ability to effectively transition of children's literature to young adult and then adult literature with surprising grace. The books and films all aged alongside its viewers. However, in hindsight this also leaves the first film feeling much brighter and far more, for lack of a better term, cartoony, in its actions.

A part of this, I largely place at the feet of the director as well as the author. Chris Columbus is a spectacular director and it was probably an amazing idea to begin this franchise under his tutelage, but his hallmarks can be seen quite prevalent in the lighting, music, and narrative focus. A director of many comedies ,like Adventures in Babysitting or Home Alone, and dramas that often stuggle to balance out their humor effectively, like Bicentennial Man (which we've already reviewed so you all should know what I mean by that), Columbus has this through-line of attempting to cater to a lighter tone throughout his work which works for the far more childish early Harry Potter films, though I will say that it works better here much more than the second film.

My opinion of the director's aesthetic shining through aside, the film looks good. Damn good actually for a early 2001 film. The visual effects work great for the time period and even if some of the sequences don't look spectacular in today's MCU saturated world (cough...troll fight...cough) its effective enough for the story and manages to ensure a degree of visual interconnectivity with the later franchise. The director knew that the first film would be the audiences' introduction to the wizarding world and that that interaction would ultimately be seen through the whimsical eyes of a child, so he effectively directed its tone with that in mind. Yes, later film would be darker, but the world is still bright and comparatively safe for Harry Potter during his first year at school and the film reflects that in its visual and auditory whimsy.

And that soundtrack, oh god! John Williams was behind the score and is it any wonder that it remains possibly my favorite soundtrack in the entire series. "Hedwig's theme" is especially noteworthy as there is a reason that that song in particular was used to bookend the entire franchise in Deathly Hallows, Part II and became the leitmotif of the entire Wizarding World franchise.

This focus on a more light-hearted and, dare I say it, childish tone was a tremendous risk. You must remember that 2001 was the same year as The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, a landmark film in the fantasy genre and a quintessential part of the eternal nerd zeitgeist right alongside Harry Potter. The fantasy genre had never before been so effectively adapted before and I don't think its any stretch to say that Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone and The Lord of the Rings built the temple which all modern fantasy nerd film fans pray too. This meant that Columbus was working with his own vision and on land that was largely untested, as the very idea of a long-form pre-established series of book adaptations and guaranteed sequels had never been done before this point. That just wasn't how movies were made before that point.

In the 1980s or 1990s, a film adaptation of a book was made as if it was going to be the only film made and, if that film did successfully enough, then and only then would a sequel have been green-lit. If Sorceror's Stone had been adapted in the early 1980s or 1990s (which would've required some time travel bullshit but this is just a hypothetical) then I have little doubt that the film would've had elements from Chamber of Secrets added to combine the much lighter narrative of Sorceror's Stone with a more weighty tone of the sequel. This is also added to complications that in 2001, the Harry Potter franchise only had four published books and Order of the Phoenix wouldn't be published until 2003, after the release of the second film.

So Columbus was working on a film series that didn't even know where it was ultimately headed, in a genre that had never been guaranteed sequels before and had a long history and reputation for box office failure. Quite frankly, the fact that this film was a hit is owed in no small part to Columbus' skill as a director and the hard work of every single person behind this film, especially the actors.

Child actors have long had a not entirely undeserved reputation within the filmmaking art for lackluster performances, so I think it speaks volumes that Columbus was able to get what he did out of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint as he did. And those three needed to work out as their friendship and relationship, both on-screen and off, would form the emotional heart of the entire franchise. If any one of them was a weak link, the whole project would be for nought. Of course, there are some weird line-reads and some emotional stuntedness in Radcliffe's early performance (as it seemed he was quite nervous and required to do an awful lot with such a weighty franchise resting on his shoulders) but he overcame admirably and manages to be just charming enough to continue watching (where he does get much better).

The rest of the cast is hit or miss, largely due to age. The other child actors which make up the main three's schoolmates are usually non-entities or come off as very inexperienced (as they probably were) meanwhile the adult cast are all spectacular, with special attention given to Richard Harris as Dumbeldore and Alan Rickman as Severus Snape (who is just an awful character but portrayed wonderfully by Rickman). This film starts the long-line of great British actors in Harry Potter and it starts off strong. It is merely the awkwardness of the younger cast members that knock down the character score.

Another weak point of the film lies in the story itself. In a lot of ways, this film is mostly an experience film, following Harry's experiences at his new school and all the weird things that happen. However, an underlying thread of a story involving the nature of what lies on the Third Floor does piece itself throughout, mostly in minor ways until about halfway through the film. A common element in almost all of "She who shall not be named"'s writing style is the reliance on a mystery that isn't really all that much of a mystery. Every single Harry Potter story relies on a fundamental question or mystery to feed its central plot that almost always has a last minute twist. While effective, it can also make the plot feel predictable for those of us who watch a lot of movies. The mystery of this film is twofold, what is on the third floor and who is trying to steal it. Due to the title of the movie, you can figure out what the Macguffin is and within the first 30 minutes, you can probably guess who is trying to steal it.

It leaves the film with not much in the way of rewatchability as far as a mystery is concerned, but the film still looks good and is heartwarming with a beautiful score; so that more than makes up for it in my mind. The film is just feel good, even if its one of the weaker films in the franchise. It crawled so the later films could walk.

  • 8/10
  • 8/10
  • 7/10
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 7.5/10

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