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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

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1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

For the many, many fans of the novel "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the main question about the highly anticipated movie is "Were the filmmakers true to the book?" The answer is that they were true to a fault. "Harry Potter" is a rich, wildly imaginative movie with enough old-school Brothers Grimm bite to keep it from becoming saccharine. The sets and situations are grand and wondrous, but the powers that be, in their zeal to include as much from the book as is humanly possible, have overstuffed the film almost to the breaking point.

During the first half of its mammoth 153 minutes, the production is so busy hopping from one vignette, secondary storyline or character introduction to another that it doesn't have time to address the plotline of its title. When it finally does, it does so breathlessly, often forgetting to take a moment or two to drink in the wonder. I suspect that future editions of the series will be more sound, now that the laborious groundwork has been laid.

Incidentally, please don't mistake my complaints about "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" as anything approaching condemnation. Even with its flaws, this is still an extremely entertaining piece of work that deserves the massive audience it surely will attract.

Thankfully, for every misstep, the filmmakers do a great deal right. First off, there is no attempt to Americanize the thoroughly British tale. The sensibilities are as British as the cast, which includes a veritable laundry list of beloved U.K. actors. The three young lead players, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, are also English. As Harry Potter, Radcliffe is appropriately earnest and heroic. In the roles of his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, Watson and Grint have some problems with their delivery, but they get the nature of their characters right.

For 11-year old Harry Potter, the opportunity to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a godsend. Reared in horrible conditions by his aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) after the death of his parents (they were murdered by an evil wizard, but Harry was told they died in an accident), the boy is only too eager for a fresh start, which begins for him at train station, specifically at platform 9 .

Once he finds the entrance, he slides into a world where the impossible is the norm, provided you know the right incantation. With 9-foot Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, sporting a body-length Afro) serving as his mentor, Harry visits a bank staffed with ornery goblins. Harry eyes the trendiest magic wands in a neighboring store window before heading off to Hogwarts.

Oh, what a facility it is. Massive, handsome and vaguely threatening, the sprawling estate boasts hundreds of students, overseen by Headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris), the prime but understanding Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), sinister Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and a host of others.

We get an extended look at Harry's first game of Quidditch, a thrilling sport involving 50-foot golden goalposts, a variety of balls and student athletes zooming through the air on their broomsticks trying to score goals. We also get quick glimpses of numerous characters who will get more screentime in subsequent films.

Just as the parade of vignettes begins to grow tiresome, the central plot kicks in. The Sorcerer's Stone is in danger of being stolen by the evil Voldemort, who is manipulating one of the professors to do his bidding. Can Harry and his new friends Hermoine and Ron save the stone and the school without getting in trouble for being in an unauthorized area? Or will they be distracted by the angry troll in the girls' bathroom, the chocolate frog that keeps leaping out of its box, the giant three-headed dog or the majestic stairways, which periodically move from one location to another?

If this sounds appealing, but extremely jumbled, then you know what to expect. Potter veterans (and with book sales of over 100 million, there are a lot of them) will have no trouble keeping up, of course. For everyone else, I suggest you dive in and hang on, secure in the knowledge that all will become clear in the next film, "Harry Potter and the Sequel That Doesn't Bite Off More than It Can Chew."

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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