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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Robbie Coltrane
Director: Chris Columbus
Rated: PG
RunTime: 152 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Kids

*Also starring: Emma Watson, John Cleese, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, Rupert Grint, William Hurt, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

I spent my entire career teaching in New York City public high schools, an advocate of educationally justified field trips--particularly to the magic of theater and movies. Not a single year went by without my having to file forms in triplicate for each excursion. I had to wait for the chairman's signature, the principal's imprimatur and the superintendent's stamp of approval before I could even cross the street with a dozen youngsters. Imagine a school that not only awakened kids to even more magic than the theater could provide but even subjected them to dangers that could easily result in loss of life and limb! This is the situation posited by Chris Columbus's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," based on the popular novel by J.K. Rowling which has been adapted by Steve Kloves and is scheduled to break box office records. Coming in a cost of $120 million--and don't even bother to estimate the heavy costs of marketing the production--"Harry Potter" is chock full of wizardry, sporting a splendid cast of British actors putting on their classiest accents, and loaded with computer generated effects that trump almost everything that existed before while still providing a simulacrum of credibility. Yet despite the input of all that money can buy,this is no "Wizard of Oz" because "Potter" feels as though it were a series of cleverly designed scenes lacking in coherence to such a degree that one could not be blamed for thinking that some of the scenes were copied and pasted from its forthcoming annual sequels.

That reservation aside--and it is a major drawback-- the movie, though targeted to children and lacking the kind of satiric humor that many adults look for in such fare, goes by like a shot, all two and o ne-half hours' worth. Warner Bros. has taken the risk of setting up a children's picture that goes far beyond the usual 60-80 minutes that psychologists have insisted are about the limit of a small fry's attention span. Another risk taken by the studio is to use an all British cast of performers, most of whom are probably not known by the kids in the audience and few by the majority of their escorts. The big advantage of this is that kids accustomed to saying "like" and "you know" and "cool" and speaking in phrases rather than sentences can listen to the language of Milton and Shakespeare as spoke without vulgarity (short of "blood hell"), each word clearly enunciated in the king's English.

Since critics generally agree that the filmed version sticks mighty close to the book, one can but wonder not that the novel was just a best-seller but that over 100 million copies were snapped up in a work translated into 47 languages--given the movie's lack of stick-togetherness. The title character, an eleven-year-old played winningly by the preppy Daniel Radcliffe who comes across as bright but not snobbish in the slightest, has had a terrible childhood. Both his parents were murdered by an evil wizard and he is taken in reluctantly by an aunt and uncle who treat him like a Cinderella while doting on their natural, bratty son. They do everything in their power to prevent him from entering the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardly, doubtless envious because they are themselves wholly ordinary without a smidgen of magic charm. Harry enters a train on a mysterious platform 9-3/4 by going straight through a wall at the station, where he enters a parallel universe of goblins, witches, long-haired professors and snappy matrons where he meets the adorable and well-spoken Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)--escorted and mentored from time to time by the bearish and devoted Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).

The principal issue, emerging late in the narrative, is a Sorcerer's Stone which is in danger of being stolen by an evil and yet unseen Voldemort, a kind of undead horror who is leeching off the body of one of the professors. When the kids are not sitting in their classes being tutored in the use of magic brooms and wands, they are engaged in sporting matches such as a dangerous version of flying dodge ball or playing chess with pieces larger than they are, moving them simply by issuing commands. In this exciting school, the inhabitants of paintings move about at will, flags change colors and designs, and nary a kid would be tempted to cut clashes, because even a smoke in the john would pale in excitement when contrasted with their required daily activities.

From time to time Chris Columbus does his best to scare the kids in the audience, principally by refusing to allow a sleeping three-headed, monstrous-sized dog to lie. Episode builds upon episode though without much congruity, so that what emerges is a spectacular piece of work using superb actors spouting clever bon mots but little sense of a clear narrative. All in all, any parent who deprives his or her 8 or 10 or 12 year old of this movie should probably be indicted for child abuse, but were someone like Steven Spielberg called in to remedy the failure in coherence, this could have been something better.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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