Friday, July 10, 2009

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Year: 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Richard Harris
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG

In 1997, producer David Heyman looked almost everywhere for a children's book that he thought could be adapted into a successful film. After his plans for a film adaptation of "The Ogre Downstairs" fell apart, some of his staff members suggested Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Heyman pitched it to Warner Bros. and that same year, author J. K. Rowling sold the company rights for the first four books for nearly $2 million. Rowling demanded that the principal cast be kept strictly British. Steven Spielberg was attached to direct and wanted to make the film into an animated feature, but later dropped out to film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The studio began talking with many directors with Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland) being the final two choices. Rowling wanted Gilliam, but the studio went with Columbus because he has already made family films before. Writer Steve Kloves was brought on board to write the screenplay with Rowling getting creative control over the script.

Plot Outline:
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an average 11 year old boy who has lived with the Dursley family ever since his parents died in a car crash. For some reason the family has always mistreated him. On his 11th birthday a giant man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) hands him a letter telling him that he has been accepted as a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that his parents were wizards and were killed by an evil wizard Voldemort, a truth that was hidden from him all these years. He embarks for his new life as a student, gathering two good friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) along the way. They soon learn that something very valuable is hidden somewhere inside the school and Voldemort is very anxious to lay his hands on it.

Plot:
The film is based on the novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by author J. K. Rowling. The story is pretty faithful to the novel in terms of key parts, but it does have a few alterations. I actually read the first three books back in 5th grade and I still enjoyed the movie even with the small changes. While the book the film was based on was simply great, the movie doesn't feel quite the same. I think mainly its because of the cast. While I think the cast is perfect for the characters they had to play, they just seem to be lacking the charisma and excitement that I was expecting from them. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on this considering this is the first Harry Potter film and also the biggest film for most of the cast, but its just something that tends to come up when I'm watching the film. The story also feels like its moving at a slow pace especially for a family/adventure film. The first half can tend to get somewhat tedious with the second half being much more action oriented. Still, the film maintains its entertainment values and builds upon its characters with alot of development. We soon begin to cheer and root for Harry and his friends. The atmosphere and costume designs are simply wonderful. Seeing parts of the novel come to life for the very first time, is like a childhood dream coming true. While the Sorcerer's Stone might be the weakest one out of the films, it still does a good job of establishing its characters and settings.

Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe plays as the wizard who lived, Harry Potter. Radcliffe auditioned for the part after director Chris Columbus saw him in the David Copperfield BBC adaptation. Rowling approved of Radcliffe's casting, stating that "having seen his screen test I don't think Chris Columbus could have found a better Harry." I too think Radcliffe was a great choice and hes enjoyable in this film. Its just too bad you don't see him giving an emotional performance until the third or fourth movie. Rupert Grint plays as Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. Grint was lucky enough to get the part after sending the producers an audition tape of him rapping, yes rapping. I also think Grint was an excellent casting choice because he seems to be the only one cracking small jokes here and their to break the tension. Emma Watson plays as Harry's other friend that happens to be a girl, Hermione Granger. Granger auditioned for the part after her theater teacher recommended her to casting agents. Granger makes for another perfect casting call and I enjoyed the smart-ness she brought to her character. Tom Felton plays as Harry's confident rival, Draco Malfoy. Felton actually seems to be the only one that's really having fun with his role and it translates to the screen nicely.

Picture:
The visual look of the Sorcerer's Stone is pretty great. The special effects aren't bad for a film that came out in 2001. While the CGI animation does look a bit clunky especially during the scene where the students are trying to learn how to fly on their brooms, it still manages to work seamlessly. The films source is in good condition, but their is a thin layer of grain present through out the film. Being the first and oldest of the films, this shouldn't come off as a surprise. I also didn't notice any micro-blocking or scratches on the image which seemed pretty smooth through out the two and a half hour run time. Colors seem nicely saturated and do pop occasionally. I was actually expecting it to be much more vibrant especially during the scene in Diagon Alley, but it isn't. Black levels are strong considering the films 8 year age difference, but its definitely not the best I have seen. Flesh tones are pretty great and have that warm feeling to them. Skin tones also look natural and not tampered with. Detail is very good for an 8 year old film, but its definitely the weakest in the series. Close ups show a good amount of detail and the environments never fail impress. This is the best the film is ever going to look.

Sound:
The soundtrack in the Sorcerer's Stone is simply fantastic. Just about everyone of the Harry Potter films tend to have some really amazing music and its no different here. The films original music is composed by John Williams who has scored other great films such as Star Wars and Jurassic Park. His score for this film is fantastic and really mesmerizing. It goes up their with the Star Wars theme as another classic score. It fits the Harry Potter universe very nicely and is just catchy to listen to. The Sorcerer's Stone also happens to have a very good amount of bass. While the film is mostly dialogue driven considering its the first in the series, it still has some awesome scenes such as the Quidditch scene. The bass isn't as loud and crystal clear as Transformers 2, but its still pretty good. Its mostly front centered, but also makes some use of the other open channels. While I wouldn't call it reference material, the Sorcerer's Stone still sounds damn good.

Conclusion:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is an entertaining film that's very much suitable for just about anyone. The film stays pretty faithful to the novel except for a few changes. I enjoyed the amount of character development and detail that was present in the film. I thought the cast was pretty much perfect, but definitely seemed to lack charisma. The special effects are pretty good for an 8 year old film, but some of the animation can tend to look ugly upon closer viewing. The soundtrack is pretty brilliant and John Williams delivers another classic score that's going to be remembered for years to come. While I cant say I loved the Sorcerer's Stone, I still enjoyed it and thought it was a pretty good film. Its definitely the weakest in the series in terms of actual plot and memorable fight scenes, but this was expected considering that we have to start somewhere right. I can definitely recommend this film to those looking for a fun family film.

Grade: C+

3 comments:

The Mad Hatter said...

Interesting piece, but C+ seems to be kind of a harsh grade for a movie you really seemed to dig

Farzan said...

I gave it a C+ because I'm one of the few that didn't really find the first book to be all that special. The film is good, but not great. I really felt the series took off in the next one, the Chamber of Secrets.

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