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Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone (Chris Columbus) 2001

Around the filmís one-hour mark, I was rather surprised how much I found myself enjoying Chris Columbusí Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone. During that section of the film, which follows Harry as he discovers he is a wizard and begins his journey to Hogwartís wizard school, the story moves along quickly enough and the movieís charms still seem intact. Itís a rather faithful port of the book up to this point (even as it omits most of Harryís muggle home life), and that fidelity is admirable. Once Harry finally gets to Hogwartís, however, the plotting grinds to a halt. The film begins to play less like a journey and more like a catalogue of the wizardís world. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) seems to have only one reaction to any wonder in the film: severely heightened astonishment. He can only look amazed by something so many times before it loses most of its effect. As a result, what should be rather fascinating slowly and surely becomes boring. Perhaps, the most glaring example of this is the filmís Quidditch scene, which is far too long and amped up to have any sort of emotional resonance.

The relatively hands-off treatment of any pathos is another unfortunate side effect of the filmís travelogue feel. I know that this is a kidís movie, but it disappointed me that we Harry didnít get more of a chance to voice his sadness about being orphaned. The realization that Harryís world has been a half-truth seems to have no psychological impact on the kid (other than the aforementioned wonderment), and I think the filmís modern day setting seems to remove it a bit from such fantasy films as The Wizard of Oz and make such complaints relevant. I have read the book that the film was based on, and though I was concerned about the main characterís relative stoicism there, it is far more pronounced in the film adaptation.  The filmís ending feels far to emotionally tied up for its own good, especially if this is to be the start of a series of films. This is all rather ironic, since Columbus is usually a director that jumps headlong into a filmís emotional wreckage. He might have gone overboard in the other direction here. So, itís hardly a perfect film, but itís far from garish or inept either. As I said, I enjoyed a great deal of it, but I feel some judicious editing might have served it well. I donít know if a two and a half hour long version of this film is too long for kids to sit through, but it was too long for my tastes. As it is, itís a relatively enjoyable work, and sets up an expectation that the inevitable (and supposedly more mature) sequels will exceed this film.

***

11-25-01

Jeremy Heilman