Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
It seems that just about once a generation Hollywood comes out with a film that captures the imagination of both adults and children. These films are usually destined to become classics, not so much for the merit of the film but because they offer escape from trying times. As World War II was gearing up there was The Wizard of Oz. The financially upsetting times of the eighties brought ET and now during this time when terrorists are on everyones mind there is the first Harry Potter film. I have to admit I went into my first viewing of this film with some trepidation. I didnt think I would enjoy it. Was found myself pleasantly surprised that the film held my attention and provided the promised change from my daily dose of CNN. The film is the story of an eleven-year-old boy Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Having been orphaned at a young age and left with an uncaring uncle and aunt, young Harry has a neglected existence in the shadow of his overbearing cousin, living in a closet under the hallway staircase. During a visit to a local zoo for his cousins birthday Harry finds a couple of things out of the ordinary. He is able to communicate to the python and he instinctively makes the glass disappear, freeing the snake and trapping his horrid cousin. After a fluffy of mail comes through every opening of the house the aunt and uncle move to a remote island to escape Harrys future. Fortunately for us, they are visited by Hagrid the giant (Robbie Coltrane) come to call and whisk little Harry off to the first step of his magical life. They visit a bank run by goblins to make a withdrawal and then off to a strange and wonderful shopping spree for school supplies needed by Harrys new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This school of magic is full of unusual teachers and fellow students. There are Harrys two best friends, Ron Wesley (Rupert Grint), poor but loyal and the class know it all Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). There is also a grand mix of teachers. The fatherly, kind old Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) who runs the school with a devotion and dedication to teaching his craft to others. Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) who is second in command and a bit of the stern hand needed to control youngsters with such powers. And of course there is the darker side as well. Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) whose forbidden presence looms in every scene he appears. There are of course many more, far to many for here but like young Harry, getting to know his new environment, the audience is given a change to form opinions of each cast member. Most of the story is Harry learning to fit in and find out more about his mysterious origins but there is also the typical quest to discover a magic artifact that both the good and evil covert. When consider the plot here remember that this is an introductory film with several others to follow and that the target audience is younger and not into deep and complicated plot lines. Take this for what it is, a fun ride.
The cast of this film is basically dived into two. There are staples of English film and theater like Smith, Rickman, Coltrane and Harris. These consummate professionals bring the skills of their craft to this movie proving once again that such a cast can provide performances that can make any film a masterpiece. As Headmaster Dumbledore Harris seems to have reached back in his career for his famous portrayal of King Arthur. His sits regally on his chair transforming it into a throne. Smith likewise calls to mind her groundbreaking role as the English teacher Jean Broddie. She is stern with her students yet always pushing them to reach their potential. The second cast is composed of the youngsters. Here we see the next generation of the best of English cinema. Radcliffe as Harry brings a wide eye innocence to the part. After being transported from the horrible conditions in the home of his relatives to the wonderment of the school he learns to enjoy life as well as use his gifts. Grint as Ron is the typical sidekick. Trustworthy, loyal and a bit goofy. In contrast there is Watson as Hermione, bossy, know it all and yearning for friendship. I look forward to these young stars in other roles.
There is much to Potter that reminded me of another Chris Columbus classic, Home Alone. The soundtrack is extremely similar, the use of music to set the mood almost identical. The style of direction is also very much the same. Harry depends more on his wits to get them out of the fixes they find themselves than his magic. Considering the state of the art computer graphics available almost anything is possible now. Still, Columbus chooses to keep the CGI sets from looking too real. This makes the computer scenes seem more a product of imagination than an alternate reality. This was just the touch needed. He did not try to make the film anything more than an escape from reality. There is very little in the way of plot but this also works. After all, we all have had too much reality of late and viewers of all ages could use such a diversion.
The two-disc set is well done for the most part. The video and audio of the main film is perfect, without flaw or detect. The audio is Dolby 5.1 Extended and will surround your room with the fantasy. This is another disc to show off your system. The extras on the second disc are a bit of a hassle. You have to solve some puzzles in the right order to view the seven delete scenes. Most of the questions are based on the film so pay attention. Young kids may enjoy this but the adults will look for cheat sheets very rapidly. The extras extend beyond the disc and with the use of the DVD ROM features to the Internet. While a bit longer than most family films it will hold the attention of both the kids and the parent. We can all look forward to the next installment but until then get this disc.