With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II finally hitting screens and subsequently demolishing box office records this week, RAGING (turn)BULL is celebrating one of the most successful franchises of all time by doing a review of each film, for the next 8 days in a row. Up first: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001).
Based by the best selling literary collection by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter tells the story of a young wizard and his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardary. Harry is no ordinary wizard though, and after a brush with the evil Lord Voldermort at a mere infantile age, he is left with no parents, and a lightening bolt-shaped scar across his forehead to mark the incident.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first installment in the series, and follows Harry's first year at Hogwarts as he makes friends, enemies, and deals with his new life as a wizard. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione and his friends chance upon a giant three-headed dog guarding a hidden trapdoor, the trio delve into the mystery and start to unravel a dark plot which threatens the wizarding world.
The Philosopher's Stone is a promising start to the franchise, and despite feeling thin in relation to its long running time, serves as a charming and enjoyable first installment that will leave you feeling satisfied, so long as you don't compare it to the book.
The realization and the set design of Rowling's world makes Hogwarts feel like a living, breathing character. Combined with gorgeous shots of the English countryside and some nice CGI, the magical world in which Harry and his friends reside in is easily the standout point of the film. The story itself is set almost completely within the realms of the castle, so the importance if getting location and set design right was critical, but fortunately the level to which this was achieved quite simply beautiful.
Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson play the innocent first year trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Whilst they certainly bring a smile to the face, they have a tendency to be occasionally tedious. Due to their still young age, this is forgivable to an extent. Some nice supporting performances also help shape the film, with Alan Rickman as Snape, Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and Maggie Smith as McGonagall.
The cinematography helps reinforce the magical world of Hogwarts, and whilst some shots are quite noticeably reconstructed, it is visually pleasing to see long sweeping pans of the castle and the express train steaming through the countryside. The make-up and costume departments also deserve an honourable mention as well, and have done a sterling job of further envisioning the wondrous wizarding world.
Although the narrative is for the most part smooth, some scenes have been lost or sacrificed in the final cut. This ultimately involves the majority of the introductory scenes and set up, which does slightly detract from the film, given the attention it is shown in the book. This is always an issue with novel adaptations, but it is noticeably present here.
Irrespective of transitional difficulties, The Philosopher's Stone is an enchanting and magical movie, which will charm audiences of all ages. The fans will love it even though there is a substantial amount of material absent, but will be equally impressed by the stunning vision of Rowling's world. A good benchmark for the rest of the series, and a solid introductory installment.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆