Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) – Review

You're a wizard, Harry!
In a nutshell: Harry Potter, an orphan who lives with his less-than-perfect Aunt and Uncle, discovers he is a wizard. He enrols at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he befriends Ron and Hermione. Their magical school year takes a sinister turn when they discover that the Philosopher’s Stone is being kept in the bowels of the school. After much investigation and a perislous quest to get to it before it falls into the wrong hands, Harry comes face to face with the wizard who killed his parents.

Back in 2000 Potter mania was confined to the literary world. Enter Chris Columbus and a gaggle of British thesps and the world went crazy for the boy wizard. Ten years on and the saga is drawing to a close. We’ve seen Harry and his friends grow up before our eyes and battle with increasingly dangeous darker magic keeping fans unanimously gripped.

The story, if you don’t know it, unsurprisingly follows Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Living in the cupboard under the stairs in his Uncle and Aunt’s house, he’s secluded from his parent’s magical world. That is until bumbling oaf Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) appears and whisks Harry away from his muggle prison on his eleventh birthday. With Hagrid he discovers a word filled with owls, He Who Must Not Be Named and, of course, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Quickly befriending Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry’s school year is filled with magical surprises and the reappearance of an evil wizard many had assumed was dead.

John William’s sweeping score (that would later echo through the entire franchise) compliments the film’s sense of wonder effortlessly, heightening Harry’s reactions to the magical world. This is a film of firsts; we join Harry as he discovers Diagon Alley for the first time, as he settles into a place where he is accepted and, of course, his first taste of Quidditch. Harry’s luck (or lack of) is unending; teacher’s pet from the off, danger awaits him at every turn… but that’s the allure of the saga.

Columbus, set with the unenviable task of breathing life into a much-loved novel, manages his material well. The film has a very different feel to the later films; child friendly as well as openly embracing the mystical wonder of the wizarding world, Columbus’s sets offer a Dickensian backdrop for Rowling’s best-selling story to play out upon. With the leads sometimes providing more enthusiasm than style, the film can feel immature and poky, but that adds to its charm. The film’s running jokes get a little tiring after several viewings (Seamus’s constant mishaps as well as Hagrid’s inability to keep a secret being obvious targets) but are excusable.

The Philosopher’s Stone had a lot to live up to – after all, many fans were sceptical whether the film could live up to the mystical images J. K. Rowling had masterfully wove in their heads. Encouragingly, Rowling not only wrote several scenes for the film she also hand-picked several actors (including Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane). Thanks to the later films Philosopher’s Stone sometimes feels dated but is an enjoyable watch nonetheless and easily captures the wonder of Rowling’s first novel.

Best spell: Wingardium Leviosa! (not Leviosar, duh!)
Best character: The enigmatic Dumbledore played to perfection by the late Richard Harris.
Best newcomer: Harry, of course.
Best baddie: The evil Professor Snape.
Best creature: Fluffy.
Best Harry moment: Catching the snitch.
How did it rate to the book?: With a huge pressure to live up to its literary ancestor the film did rather well. It scrimped on the the novel’s reason Harry and co got detention (the exposition in the book still sending a shiver down our spine thanks to the spineless Malfoy) whilst Hermione’s use of her magical knowledge was cut from the final set of tasks.

Three owls play Harry’s owl Hedwig, the main one being called Gizmo.
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