Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone ****

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“Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone” was the initial film adaptation from the series of Harry Potter books.  When the film came out, it marked the return of quality, fantasy film-making.  This film, and the first “Lord Of The Rings” film that came out the following month, showed that if you had a decent budget, as well as quality filmmakers, that you could not only make a terrific fantasy film, but that it could be successful.  This movie, to me, was an amazing start to what has been a wonderful franchise so far.  It is the weakest in the series, but that by no means makes this a weak film. 

The story starts as young Harry is about to turn eleven.  He leads a pretty dismal life with his aunt and uncle.  His bedroom is the cupboard under the stairs.   His parents died when he was just a baby and he was left at his uncle’s door step by Albus Dumbledore.  Young Potter is played by Daniel Radcliffe, who has taken this role and really turned it in to something special.  It is strange to look back on this film now and see how much he has grown.  As a child actor at the time, he was great in this role.  He plays a plucky kid who seems to possess strange abilities.  Even though he is treated poorly by his aunt and uncle, he still trucks along trying to find the little joys in life.  But everything changes for Harry when he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  As it turns out, Harry is a wizard, just like his parents were.   He learns this from one of the franchises most iconic characters, Rubeus Hagrid, a half man, half giant, played wonderfully by Robbie Coltrane.

From there Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley, which is like a strip mall for Wizards and Witches.  Diagon Alley is one of the first in a long line of remarkable set pieces in this series.  Every store is unique and quirky.  You can buy anything from books of spells, to wands and owls.  Every store looks aged, and is run by a clerk who has been there for many ages.  The wizards bank is run by goblins, who are particularly irritable. 

After Harry gathers up his school supplies, Hagrid takes him over to Kings Cross Station and advises him that his train is stationed at platform nine and three quarters.  When he arrives at Hogwarts, we get one of the franchises most memorable moments.  The students cross the Black Lake, each in a series of boats, lit up with torches.  Across the lake we get our first look at Hogwarts Castle.  The Castle is amazing in it’s construction, and its inner corridors are all wonderous yet mysterious.  The castle holds so many secrets and dangers that almost anything can happen.

It is here that Harry meets his two closets friends, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint).  These two will accompany Harry through all the dangerous trials that he must survive throughout the franchise.  Hermione is a smart little witch, who is usually the brains and common sense behind all of their schemes and plots.  Ron is there as Harry’s loyal but some what clumsy friend.  Together the three students represent the heart of this series.  Other kids that play a big role in this series are Neville, the awkward nerdy type, George and Fred, Ron’s older mischievous twin brothers, and Ron’s little sister Ginny. 

But not all the characters in Harry’s life are a positive force.  You see, when Harry was just a baby, his parents were killed by a dark wizard named Voldomort.  Voldomort was able to gather many followers, and waged war against everyone else.  When he showed up to destroy the Potters, he managed to take the lives of Harry’s parents, before something happened that resulted in his own destruction.  Harry is famous because of this.  He also has a scar on his forehead that stays with him for life.  The other antagonist in Harry’s life is a fellow student name Draco Malfoy.  This is an evil little brat, who is jelous of Harry’s celbrity status, and goes out of his way to try and make Harry miserable. 

Now comes the supporting adult cast.  The faculty at Hogwarts is populated by a very colorful group, lead by the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.  Dumbledore is played perfectly by the late Richard Harris.  He is all powerful, and keeps a watchful eye over Harry and his friends.  Then there is my personal favorite, Severes Snape, played deliciously by Alan Rickman.  Snape is the school’s potions teacher, whom for years has pined after the defense against the dark arts position.  That role is occupied by Professor Quirrel played by Ian Hart.  And how could I forget about the wonderful Maggie Smith, who plays Professor McGonagall.  McGonagall is a no nonsense teacher, who tries to instill rules in to the kids. 

After the movie is done setting up the characters and the over all world that this story takes place in, the movie wastes no time descending in to a plot involving the philosopher’s stone, and the dark forces that are bent on possessing it for its powers of resurrection.  The trio of kids make it there mission to find out who is trying to steal it, and foil their plot.  This involves surviving an encounter with a vicious, giant, three headed dog, surviving deadly vines, a giant game of wizard’s chess, and a face off with whats left of Voldomort. 

Christopher Columbus, who is familiar with family entertainment, takes on the task of bringing the first two Potter films to life.  I was quite amazed with how well he shoots the this film, and how good he is at pulling off all the effects and the set pieces and making them one stunning image.  Looking back on this film now, some of the effects are dated.  There are a few moments when you can clearly tell that some of the characters were created digitally.  But the magic is still there. 

“Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone” is a great film.  It does the task of setting up the characters for us as well as the universe, and paving the way for the series to get better and better.  This was an instant classic, along the lines of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars”.

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