Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone


Rating 2

Directed by Chris Columbus

Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J K Rowling

Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley), Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), John Hurt (Mr Ollivander), Warwick Davis (Filius Flitwick), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), John Cleese (Nearly Headless Nick), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Zoë Wanamaker (Rolanda Hooch), Ian Hart (Quirinus Quirrell) and Leslie Phillips as the voice of the Sorting Hat

The evil and powerful wizard Lord Voldemort murders the parents of Harry Potter, but fails to kill the baby Harry, instead leaving a scar on his forehead. Harry is left on the doorstep of his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia by Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School, Minerva McGonagall, the deputy headmistress, and Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper. Harry is treated badly by his uncle and aunt, who make him sleep under the stairs, while making a fuss of their spoilt son Dudley. When letters start arriving for Harry, Uncle Vernon burns them and then moves the family to a remote lighthouse, but on his eleventh birthday, with the help of Rubeus, Harry is able to defy his uncle and begin a new life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is befriended by Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley and all three are assigned to the Gryffindor house. Harry soon has an enemy in Draco Malfoy, who is in the Slytherin house, but more seriously, someone is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, which contains the elixir of life, and Harry’s life is in great danger.


I watched ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the 2001 film version of J K Rowling’s 1997 novel, some time ago and was very much looking forward to it, although I had not read this or any of the other Harry Potter books. I was disappointed. Although I did quite enjoy some passages of the film, overall I thought it was far too long (at over 150 minutes), rather uninspired in long sections, and I absolutely hated the long sequence in which we observe the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Quidditch is a fictional sport, a kind of violent mix of rugby and polo, played high above a grass pitch by players riding on broomsticks. Although these scenes do have bearing on the plot and are undoubtedly intended to be a thrilling action-packed portion of the film, I found them unutterably tedious. That rather took the shine off the film for me and dented any interest I might have had in the films that followed.

Several years later, I recently chanced to watch ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, the third film in the series, and although once again I was not overwhelmed by it, I enjoyed it enough to want to check out the other films. I decided it would make sense to go back and start at the beginning and watch ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ again. My reaction to it on second viewing is exactly the same as the first time. I like some sequences very much and there are some inventive touches in the storyline, but overall the film is too long and, I thought, rather boring. Once again, the Quidditch match almost had me reaching for the stop button on the remote control.

Once the magic and witchcraft are stripped away and the over-abundance of special effects with it, ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ boils down to a kind of mix of ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ and an Agatha Christie-like whodunit. It is quite successful and diverting in both respects. It seems to me, though, as if the “Englishness” of the story and the concept is smothered by the constant bombardment of special effects and what seems to be a rather over-the-top Americanised feel to the film, something I also thought the two recent ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ films suffered from to some degree. However, the film is apparently very faithful to the novel, so perhaps I am off-beam here. Probably, to fully appreciate the film I would have needed to have grown up with the books or be the parent of a child who did so. I am neither, so perhaps the magic is ever so slightly out of the reach of my grasp.

‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ was directed by the successful American director, producer and writer Chris Columbus and perhaps this is where, for me, some of the problem lies. Chris Columbus directed the hugely popular 1990 film ‘Home Alone’, which remains one of my most hated films ever. It tells the story of parents who are so inattentive of her eight-year-old son that they manage to take the family on holiday and leave him behind, home alone. The mother then spends the rest of the film shouting at strangers and blaming them as she tries to get home to the boy, while he is engaged in various violent and supposedly comic ‘Tom & Jerry’ style escapades with a couple of hapless but nasty criminals who are trying to break into the house. I once worked in a video store where this film was shown on the monitors frequently. Although it is now twelve years or more since I last saw it, I still feel angry just thinking about it. This probably does not enamour me to Chris Columbus, although he did write both ‘Gremlins’ and ‘The Goonies’, two films that I do have a soft spot for.

There has been some criticism of the performance of Daniel Radcliffe, in particular, who is more or less the age of his character and had little previous professional acting experience when he was first cast. J K Rowling approved of his casting in the lead role. She had insisted that the cast be British (or, in the case of Richard Harris, Irish) and had been involved in the audition process. She also had approval over the screenplay, insisting that it did not deviate to any appreciable degree from the novel. Radcliffe’s performance is not especially praiseworthy and neither are the performances of Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, but they are all likeable and, having already stated that I have never read the books, they do seem to be well cast and a good fit for the roles.

My opinion of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is not necessarily trustworthy and is certainly at odds with general opinion about the film. It has a 78% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 182 reviews. Peter Bradshaw, film critic with The Guardian newspaper, called it a, “Richly accomplished entertainment spectacular, the quickest, zappiest two and a half hours you’ll spend in the cinema,” although the newspaper’s website does not carry his full review. The film had a $125 million production budget and grossed nearly $975 million worldwide. It was the most successful film of 2001 and is No.5 in the All-Time Worldwide Grosses, although when the figures are adjusted for ticket price inflation it drops to number sixty-six. The original novel has sold in excess of 120 million copies worldwide.

The title of both the book and film were changed to ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in America.

Review posted 14 July 2009


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