The books do not matter.
Here we have the first film of the Harry Potter universe. The Harry Potter franchise seems to cause one of a few different types of reactions from people. The largest group is likely the folks who worship this story and viciously defend it from any criticism (no matter how valid). On the other side, you have those who hate the franchise and want everyone to know how edgy they are.
Now that I have annoyed everyone, we are at a good starting point. I hear from a lot of people that this franchise saved reading, or got a generation into reading—sure, it got a generation into reading Harry Potter and little else. I personally do not see this series as the greatest thing ever, nor do I believe it made that big of a difference in the general makeup of readers in either America or England. This is about all I want to say about the books, so why don’t we turn to films?
The first venture into adapting the novels came out at an interesting time. I always thought the Harry Potter films were overshadowed by The Lord of the Rings adaptations at the time of their release. Budget wise, you can certainly tell that Sorcerer’s Stone operated with quite a bit less than its war epic counterpart.
Director Chris Columbus (of Home Alone fame) has an impressive catalog of family-friendly films that serve as wholesome and safe brain candy. As with a lot of Columbus’ other films, they are entertaining, but start to whither under much critical scrutiny.
The fantasy genre needs to establish rules quickly, and Sorcerer’s Stone seems to make a lot up as it goes. The rules (not only of the school, but of the universe) seem to change rapidly to favor our heroes. The stakes of the story are incredibly thin due to this, but perhaps more annoying is that there is so much forced bullshit.
Great wizard Dumbledore leaves Harry with his abusive and cruel aunt and uncle after Harry’s parents are murdered. His reasoning is that it will be better for Harry to grow up away from the fame that will follow him his whole life. Sure, you can buy that at face value, but finish the thread—we’ll just wait until he is eleven and throw him into the wizarding world with no friends or knowledge. Sure, sounds great. The previous complaint doesn’t even address the horrid existence of Harry’s childhood.
Making the muggle world miserable is a cheap way for the story to make the wizarding world seem better. Instead of giving us tangible and viable reasons why they are so much better we are only given comparisons to a crappy life.
The problems of the opening of the film illuminate a larger weakness in the narrative. The characters are paper thin, and the films were lucky enough to have some of England’s best talents bring the characters to life. The heroes are likable, but they all fall squarely into school drama or fantasy narratives with little deviation.
Instead of introducing any sort of nuance, we are brow beaten into knowing who we are meant to root for from the opening frame until the end. Our one dimensional villains lack any sort of depth, humanism, or interest. The film bets everything it has that you will like the good guys, and luckily most people do—otherwise the film would have been dead in the water.
Columbus’ attention to detail, physical humor, and expertise with working with children do allow for many memorable scenes to be made. The Quidditch match holds up quite well (some of the other special effects are showing their age), and the narrative’s pacing in these moments holds together nicely. Aside from the first twenty minutes or so the film moves adeptly and provides enough action, humor, and intrigue to make you interested in the world that has been built.
When the magical aspects of the world are used for our entertainment (and not plot convenience) there is a lot to love. The numerous magical creatures, activities, and other things make for a fun time. These moments feel organic, and instead of being told who to support or who to dislike we get a glimpse into an alternate universe (and in these moments I can see why this series is so intoxicating to so many people). Columbus had to force a lot of exposition into a single movie, and despite some flaws the film overall delivers.
The internet has savaged this film through memes and you can easily see every plot hole if you want. The largest one being that if the kids would have done nothing then Quirrell would have been stumped at the mirror. Alternatively, how the hell the stone ends up in Harry’s pocket is likewise quite odd—and no, Dumbledore’s “because magic you little turd” answer is not satisfying.
Whether plot holes drive you nuts or not will greatly effect how much you like the movie. Sure, the story is a bit flimsy, but the world is inviting. This is one film that kids and adults can probably find quite a bit to enjoy in.
Anyone else find it odd that Harry doesn’t cast a single spell in the movie? 7/10