'Sorcerer's Stone' does not disappoint
|||Enchanted fans line up to view Harry Potter|
|||Harry Potter books are a welcome distraction|
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Harry Potter fans can rest easy. The humble hero of Hogwarts has survived his transport to the big screen.
Ever since plans for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" were announced three years ago, Potter-lovers on both sides of the Atlantic have been wringing their hands over how Hollywood would depict J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful series.
Much of the angst and ire has focused on the selection of American director Christopher Columbus ("Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire") to render Rowling's very British vision on screen.
As A.O. Scott, film critic for the New York Times, wrote: "There's nothing in his filmography that suggests to me that he has any understanding of the inner lives and imagination of children."
That may be the case, but Rowling certainly does, and Columbus wisely followed the spirit and letter of her first novel with great fidelity. So, while the special effects are as dazzling as can be expected from a $125 million film, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" succeeds mainly on its ability to communicate the sweetly melodramatic hearts of its young characters.
Much of the credit goes to 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the title role. If fans really must connect a real human face to Rowling's literary offspring, Radcliffe is an excellent choice, given his ability to hit emotional marks with endearing subtlety.
Like the novel, the film charts Harry's progress from a persecuted orphan to powerful boy-wizard. Opening with a hilariously over-the-top performance by Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw as Harry's aunt and uncle, the story quickly moves to the timeless world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry's history and destiny are slowly revealed.
Even the most reticent Potter fanatics should appreciate the casting of Robbie Coltrane as the bear-like Hagrid and Emma Watson as Harry's uptight accomplice Hermione.
Despite its 2 1/2-hour length, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is wonderfully engaging from start to finish. As noted, the special effects are top-notch, if at times disconcerting. From the curmudgeonly Sorting Hat that assigns new students to their quarters to the high-speed, high-altitude Quidditch match, to the subtle mischief that goes on constantly in the background, the film manages to imbue Hogwarts with a magic that is both organic and electric.
Yet, the movie, like the book, never fails to ground its flights of fancy with its recurring themes of friendship, belonging and destiny.
When Harry first learns that he is a wizard, he responds with guileless shock: "I'm just Harry. Just Harry."
And indeed, it is the sense of Harry as a lonely, bewildered adolescent finding his place in the sometimes enchanting, sometimes terrifying world of wizardry that carries this film.