A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

July 24, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

We’ve wanted to review all of our Harry Potter movies for come time now, but there’s a problem: they’re too long. Under normal circumstances Amanda gets out of work at nine PM two nights a week, which doesn’t leave us much time to watch long movies on those nights. There isn’t one of these films that is under two hours long, and most of them are considerably longer, which made it nearly impossible for us to review them all in a series as they should be watched. This week, however, Amanda is on vacation. So Potter it is. Seven Harry Potter movies in seven days (and we’ll probably go see the last one in theaters when we’re done.)

Up until this movie came out in theaters I did a pretty good job of avoiding Harry Potter. I had heard of the books of course, but as often happens with things that are insanely popular I found myself disinclined to get caught up in the fervor. I didn’t read any of the books until well after the third one had come out. My recollection is that, once I finally did pick them up, I couldn’t put them down. I think I got the first one through a book club I was a member of, and when I was done reading it Amanda and I went into town and bought the other two and read all three of them in a single weekend. It’s not surprising that I ended up loving the books – they’re exactly the kind of book that I always enjoyed as a child. Tales of magic and adventure just around the corner from our humdrum lives.

The first book is not the best in the series. It’s very tentative and Jo hasn’t really found her voice yet. I’ve often said that the opening chapters with Harry and the Dursleys reminds me very much of Roal Dahl in tone with the progressively more outlandish attempts that Harry’s uncle makes to escape from the letters. The mystery at the heart of the book which the intrepid trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione find themselves investigating – that of the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) stone – is not as well constructed and the world doesn’t have as epic a feel as in later books. But that’s not really the appeal of the book to me. The first book is all about introducing the characters and the world of Harry Potter.

The movie is very much the same. It’s not the best in the series. It spends so much time being meticulously faithful to the source material that it doesn’t work perfectly as a film. It feels as though it is attempting to get every word on every page into a single movie, and that although much of the book is full of fantastic imagery the genre of film doesn’t necessarily work in the same way that a book does. A good example is the text around the edge of the mirror of Erised. Now when reading the book it’s a simple matter to figure out for yourself what that text says, and therefore what the mirror does. On film it’s only there for a couple seconds as the camera pans across it, so there’s no chance for the same joy of discovery. Of course superfans will point out that Norbert’s part in the film is very much curtailed and Peeves is missing entirely, but you take my point – just putting everything that’s in the book up on the screen isn’t going to necessarily make a great movie.

I would argue that this is not a great movie. What it is, however, is a glimpse into a great world. A couple years ago Amanda and I went to a traveling museum exhibit that held a wealth of costumes and pieces of set dressing from the movies, and it was astonishing the level of detail that went into these pieces. Practically everything in the wizarding world from the wands and tomes to the clothes and toys was hand crafted for the screen with a common goal: to bring the world of the books to life. My favorite piece on exhibit was a quidditch board game complete with tiny figurines to represent the players and a box that resembles a quidditch pitch. You don’t actually see it in the movie – it’s just something in Ron and Harry’s room at Hogwarts – but these grea t pieces of set dressing fill every frame of the movie, making Hogwarts a real place for the first time.

The casting too is brilliant. Robbie Coltrane IS Hagrid. Nobody but Alan Rickman could have done as well as Severus Snape. All the ancillary characters from the Weasleys to Seamus, Neville to Oliver, Lee to Dean are perfectly cast. And of course there are the core trio of Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. Sure Hermione doesn’t have her signature buck teeth (which she magicked away during book four) but otherwise these are the characters exactly as they are described on the page, and it’s kind of magical just to see them come to life like this.

This movie is not just a movie. That’s the key to understanding it. It’s part of a massive media empire that reaches from books to games to toys and figures and candy. Amanda an I, for example, have a very large collection of the WotC Harry Potter trading card game cards. (We pull them out every once in a while to build and try out new decks. It’s sad that the cards have all been out of print for several years now.) There’s even a theme park now, which some day I would very much like to attend. The movies themselves are an incredible accomplishment – filmed almost non-stop over the course of ten years. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see anything on this scale ever again.

So what if this movie isn’t perfect? So what if it’s too long and too full of itself? So what if the confrontation at the end between Harry Potter and Voldemort makes no sense? That’s not important. This is Harry F**ing Potter!

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July 24, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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