Bewitched!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Directed by Chris Columbus

(Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grant, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman)

PG

 

Audience members who know their Potter books better than their Bibles will revel in director Chris Columbus’ attention to author J.K. Rowling’s detail-even the grayish troll snot described in the book is present in the film. For those who have yet to lose their Harry Potter virginity, the film seamlessly eases viewers into the books’ mythology.

It is easy to root for young Harry, played by a cleverly understated Daniel Radcliffe. Harry is an orphan who, Cinderella-like, serves his fussy, non-magical aunt and uncle (flatly played by Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) after a blood-swilling wizard killed his spell-casting parents.

On his 11th birthday, Harry receives an owl-delivered invitation to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a chance to leave his miserable life with the muggles, or “non-magical folk.”

At Hogwarts, Harry’s reputation as the orphaned wizard precedes him-he is an instant celebrity among the classmates who admire him and the professors who remember his parents. Befriending the bookish Hermione Granger (snotty Emma Watson) and the dufus Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), Harry prepares to fight the wizard who killed his parents, come to terms with his fame and graduate from the first grade.

An all-British cast saves us from wavering accents and Hollywood familiars, instead supplying actors whose characterizations are ripped from the pages of the books. Maggie Smith stings as the curt Professor McGonagall and Alan Rickman oozes evil as Professor Snape. Robbie Coltrane’s lumbering performance as giant Rubeus Hagrid overshadows the film.

Columbus, whose work in Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone drips with sap and cheese, delivers a groan-free film with Potter that speeds through potential melodrama. Composer John William’s overbearing score, however, drowns some of the film’s subtler moments and the film’s extensive length (two and a half hours) left me shifting in my seat during plot lapses.

Still, some of the narrative’s less pertinent segments make the film worth its length. A game of Quidditch-a sort of rugby on broomsticks-triumphs where the pod-race in The Phantom Menace failed. Where its Star Wars counterpart left me wishing Anakin would crash his pod just to end the two-headed commentator’s ramblings (a low point in Greg Proops’ hilarity), one of Harry’s classmates sparks the Quidditch sequence with refreshingly sparse commentary.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone draws us into a charming fantastical world, complete with baby dragons, noble centaurs and broomstick rugby. Harry Potter is our link to this world-even muggles will cheer at his successes, marvel at his realizations and yearn to see him in the next sequel. Only 364 days to go.

-Amy Hackbarth

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens today in theaters nationwide.