Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
(a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) (2001)
Directed by Chris Columbus

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), a young orphan being raised by his cruel aunt and uncle, receives a letter informing him that he has been admitted to a mysterious school called Hogwarts. Not wanting Harry to attend, his aunt and uncle take him on vacation, but he is found by Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), a lumbering, goodhearted giant, who tells the boy that his parents had been wizards and that they had been killed by Voldemort, an evil magician, who had somehow been vanquished by Harry himself when he was a baby. Hagrid then takes Harry to Hogwarts, which, he discovers, is a school of real magic. There Harry makes new friends, learns how to be a wizard, and discovers that Voldemort may have returned to threaten him.

Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an exciting, enchanting adventure. While the director has perhaps not created an enduring classic, he has, nevertheless, made a consistently entertaining movie.

The film is absolutely filled with a variety of odd and amusing characters, places, and occurrences. While none are brilliantly realized, most are engaging and lend a wonderfully magical feel to the movie. Hogwarts itself, for example, mingles together elements of an English public school with a medieval castle and combines these with some enchanted world inhabited by marvelous but often sinister beings and enlivened by countless strange events. Taken together, such elements lend the film a genuinely entrancing feel that is sure to charm the viewer's heart.

Although much of the movie consists of depictions of Harry's daily life, his magic classes, his interactions with his teachers and fellow students, and his playing Quidditch, a game played on flying broomsticks, these are all filled with a wealth of interesting details. Harry's life is further enlivened by the beings he encounters and by a number of minor adventures, as an encounter with an errant troll, a midnight's prowling through the school's corridors with the help of a cloak of invisibility, a slain unicorn, an evil teacher with a particularly nasty parasite, a giant three-headed dog, a baby dragon, a headless ghost, flying keys, an enchanted mirror, numerous spells and magical contests, including a deadly game of wizard's chess, and more. The inclusion of such a variety of delightful elements prevents the moviegoer's attention from ever wandering, and the film moves along very quickly as a consequence.

In addition to making Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone a quirky and intriguing movie, Chris Columbus has made it a fairly frightening one as well, for doing which he should be complimented. He has not created a bland narrative of innocuous, trivial challenges and dull, smiling automatons. Harry and his friends face dangers that could well be frightening to children and are, as a result, more exciting than the harmless stories so often foisted on children by foolish, nervous parents. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone creates a sense of adventure, and of Harry's bravery, that leaves the viewer thrilled by the events of the film and eager to hear more about the boy wizard.

Lastly, I should note that the movie's young actors all acquit themselves well. Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry as a very ordinary child who still manages to do extraordinary things. Rupert Grint is likeable as Harry's underachieving best friend Ron, and Emma Watson imbues her character, the intelligent but arrogant Hermione, with a charm she might not have had if she had been portrayed by another actress. The adult actors do generally outshine their younger colleagues, but the focus of the film remains consistently on the children so that they are not overwhelmed by their elders. Instead, good natured old Dumbledore (Richard Harris) provides Harry with a protector, and sneering, pallid Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) provides him with a figure of menace. They enrich the children's story rather than overshadow their characters.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an exciting, entertaining film. While it never attains greatness, it is still captivating to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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