[Contains feather-tating SPOILERS!!!]
Although I’ve dipped in and out of a couple of Harry Potter flicks on TV over the years, I decided it was time to make a proper effort to appreciate this landmark series, starting at the beginning and working forward.
First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way: My major issue with The Philosopher’s Stone (aka The Sorcerer’s Stone) (2001) is much the same issue I have with all child-oriented adventure flicks… namely, the narrative contortion and obfuscation required to sell the idea that an adolescent boy (or girl) could be the world’s only hope of salvation from terrible evil. He (or she) has to be the only one who understands the true threat, while all of the older, more experienced (and presumably more powerful) adult characters have to be too blind or sceptical to believe him (or her), even though we-the-audience know that something sinister is most certainly afoot. To be fair, that is mitigated a little here by the fact that Harry and his chums peg the wrong suspect for the crimes that are being committed around Hogwarts… but I think it’s rather odd that the staff seem so apathetic about investigating the allegations at all, considering his family history. And don’t they have any safeguards against attendees using magic to affect Quidditch matches? That would seem a pretty obvious precaution to take, to prevent the competing houses from cheating! I appreciate that Snape was trying to help Harry out, but you would think that the other teachers would be able to sniff out the sabotage… at the very least the supposed referee should have her “eye on the ball”, as it were.
I also have a problem with the disparity of scale between the cosy, Enid Blyton-esque boarding school shenanigans, and the larger battle with ‘Lord Voldermort’. I mean, Harry faces down the undead spirit of the wizard who killed his parents, along with a psychotic teacher who had apparently been hiding this parasitic evil under his turban the whole time he was working at the school… then the whole traumatic affair is laughed off as a jolly lark that earns his house some cup-winning points. Big whoop. I demand a public enquiry! Hagrid and Dumbledore must be called to account for their unforgivable negligence!
Now, on to the positive stuff: There’s no question that this film is fantastically entertaining… funny, exciting, suspenseful, and brilliantly cast. I also think that Harry is a very sympathetic hero, and it’s very easy to root for him as he stumbles rather humbly towards his destiny. I haven’t read the original novel on which this film was based, but by-and-large books tend to be better than their big-screen adaptations, so I can certainly understand how the series became such a phenomenal success. Tweenage-me would have eaten this stuff up with a spoon! I’m not a particularly nationalistic chap, but I also tip my hat to J. K. Rowling for insisting that the majority of the roles went to British (or British-ish) actors. Speaking of whom…
Although this was very much a kids’ show, there were a few familiar older faces in supporting roles: First up was Maggie Smith as ‘Minerva McGonagall’, the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, as well as the head of Harry’s house. Then there was Fiona Shaw (of True Blood fame) as Harry’s emotionally abusive ‘Aunt Petunia’. Then a brief turn by Julie Walters as ‘Molly Weasley’, the chirpy mother of Harry’s new chum Ron. Then Zoë Wanamaker as the spiky-haired flying instructor ‘Madame Hooch’. And finally Geraldine Somerville (of co-starring-with-Robbie-Coltrane-in-Cracker fame) as Harry’s late mother, ‘Lily Potter’.
Meanwhile, the closest the film had to a female lead was Emma Watson, a then-unknown actress who has since gone on to world-wide fame and fortune, thanks to her work as Harry’s platonic gal-pal, ‘Hermione Granger’. As the school’s resident over-achieving know-it-all, Hermione could have come off as quite an obnoxious and irritating character, but thanks to the writing and Watson’s performance, she’s actually very endearing… and the scene where she keeps desperately raising her hand to answer the questions that Snape is aggressively firing at Harry, is totes adorable. Considering how obsessed Disney is with “inspiring” young girls to worship empty-headed pop-princesses, I’m glad to see that a geeky bookworm like Hermione can still become a beloved cultural icon… even if she is a bit of a weepy “damsel-in-distress” in this instalment. Fun fact: Although classified as a Brit, Watson was actually born in Paris (France), where she spent the first five years of her life! Sadly, she didn’t keep the accent…
Note: I bought the fancy two-disc edition, unaware of the convoluted puzzles I would have to slog through in order to access the disappointingly scant extras. Thankfully, some kind soul at The DVD Journal has posted cheats to help make the process a little less time-consuming. Hurrah!