Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as it’s known across the pond) is where the magic begins. There isn’t a Muggle alive that doesn’t know the name of “The Boy Who Lived” otherwise known as Harry Potter. The bespectacled boy wizard who attends Hogwarts, befriends Ron Weasley & Hermione Granger, plays Quidditch, and fights the one who gave him his trademark lightning bolt scar. Written by English author J. K. Rowling, the book series became one of the best selling of all time. Making a movie series a top commodity for Warner Bros. It was rare to have a living author work directly on an adaptation, but Rowling was sure to keep things British and faithful to her material.
Despite directors as big as Steven Spielberg showing interest, Chris Columbus was chosen for his experience with child actors. Only the best British thespians and talent in Hollywood came together to give life to the magical world. Including John Williams who composed yet another iconic movie tune with “Hedwig’s Theme.” Despite a number of crazed fans, LEGO, video games, Harry Potter themed school events, and unavoidable media coverage, I wasn’t a fan of the series when I was a kid in 2001. Being a Christian, my parents didn’t approve, but never forbade us from seeing them one day. When that day came 6 years ago I realized it was just a fun nonsensical fantasy, not trying to promote anything wicked. SPOILER ALERT! in case you’re like I was…
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is one of the most faithful book to movie adaptations. Although I haven’t read the books myself. Considering how well regarded they are, I know how important that was to fans. Since only four novels were out at the time, that made adapting The Sorcerer’s Stone tricky. Certain details and character performances needed to be adjusted for the remaining three novels. The trailer is a classic and the American poster made it clear that this was a major franchise in the making. The Sorcerer’s Stone begins on Privet Drive. Where we’re introduced to three of the biggest adult players in the story. Professor Albus Dumbledore deluminates the area and is joined by animagus Professor Minerva McGonagall as she transforms from cat to witch. They’re both joined by half-giant Rubeus Hagrid via flying motorcycle.
He carries the one and only baby Harry Potter in his arms. He doesn’t know it now, but he’s about to become the most famous wizard who ever lived. After a brilliant stormy opening title, our story truly begins. Harry is an 11 year old Birthday boy who wears round glasses and has a lightning bolt scar. The casting of Harry was a daunting one, but young British lad Daniel Radcliffe was selected for his work in a BBC TV film. He just didn’t have green eyes. Like most iconic heroes, Harry is an orphan. Only instead of having caring guardians, the abusive Dursley family forces him to work and sleep under the stairs. There’s Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon, Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia, and Harry Melling as particularly bratty cousin Dudley. Although he thinks he’s normal, a strange encounter with a snake begs the differ. Then the magic really comes out when owls come bearing letters. Vernon tries to keep the weirdness out, but Hagrid soon comes knocking.
Hagrid is a perfectly lovable first friend for Harry who benefits from Robbie Coltrane’s spot on performance. As gamekeeper, Hagrid is the one who opens Harry’s (and the audience’s) eyes to the hidden Wizarding World. It really is a very immersive world filled with fun magically appropriate versions of our own Muggle world. It’s a pivotal moment when Hagrid tells Harry he’s a wizard and he reads his acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A passage through the Leaky Cauldron makes him realize how famous he is. Since he survived a Killing Curse perpetrated by “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Resulting in his scar and death of his parents James & Lily Potter. Diagon Alley is the central marketplace for colourful pointy hat witches & wizards. It’s where Harry buys school supplies like a wand, cauldron, spell books, black school robes, and his beloved snow white pet owl Hedwig.
Gringotts is the magical bank ran by goblins who are holding Harry’s large inheritance and a mysterious object that Hagrid pockets for Dumbledore. John Hurt plays the well regarded wandmaker Ollivander. Another pivotal moment comes when Harry holds his wand for the first time. According to Pottermore, my wand is spruce wood with a phoenix core. Harry is finally off when sent looking for Platform 9¾ at London King’s Cross station. It’s there Harry has a fateful encounter with the red haired Weasley family. Julie Walters heads her family as matriarch Molly Weasley. Her eldest prefect son Percy, troublemaking twins Fred & George, and Ron Weasley all run directly into the platform wall. Leaving behind youngest daughter Ginny. While boarding the Hogwarts Express, Harry learns more about the Wizarding World from his bumbling future best friend Ron. Who tells him all about magic candy like the enchanted chocolate frogs and disgusting Every Flavor Beans (which I have tried).
They’re joined by brainy booksmart Hermione Granger who promptly fixes Harry’s glasses with a simple spell. Both Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were genuine newcomers, but you couldn’t tell by watching the trio’s chemistry. Sure some line readings are awkward, but you can excuse the child acting. The boat ride to Hogwarts is as iconic as the castle itself. Which is expansive and imaginative with its great halls, changing staircases, living portraits, and wish fulfilment like a magical feast. Maggie Smith has more than enough range to pull off transfiguration Professor McGonagall. She explains the four houses of Hogwarts and performs the Sorting Hat ceremony. Harry also meets his future rival Draco Malfoy. A snobbish little tosser who looks down on others, effectively played by Tom Felton. Easily the best child actor in the movie. The four houses consist of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Although we primarily follow the brave Gryffindor and always evil Slytherin.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione all end up in Gryffindor, but the former does face some trepidation. According to Pottermore, I belong to Ravenclaw house. When sorted, headmaster Professor Dumbledore welcomes the students and enforces the rules. Richard Harris’ soft spoken, yet commanding presence made him the ideal Dumbledore. He makes it clear how dangerous this school really is. The ghosts that haunt the halls aren’t to blame though. With John Cleese as Gryffindor ghost Nearly Headless Nick. Book ghost Peeves is omitted though. The trio’s fellow schoolmates include accident prone Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, ect. While primary professors include Zoë Wanamaker as flying instructor Madame Hooch, Warwick Davis as charms master Filius Flitwick, and potions master Severus Snape. As well as unassuming stuttering Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Quirinus Quirrell.
Life at Hogwarts is like any other boarding school. Only with more magic, humorous situations, and lessons for basic spells that come in handy later on. Specifically levitation spell Wingardium Leviosa. One of many reasons The Sorcerer’s Stone is the most quotable film. The spell helps against a dimwitted mountain troll that invades the girl’s bathroom on Halloween. The reason Hermione befriends Ron & Harry. Although the CGI holds up well, it is a little hinky on some creatures. As well as the fast paced game of Quidditch. The most famous fictional sport ever created. Even though it makes no sense. Older student Oliver Wood shows Potter the ropes as he becomes the youngest Seeker the school has seen in years. Since he takes to broom riding rather easily, he’s the one who catches the Golden Snitch. A small winged golden ball worth 150 points in a system only important in the first film. It’s during the Quidditch match that the trio suspects foul play.
The troll, Harry’s jinxed broom, and guarded underground chamber all point to Professor Snape. Alan Rickman is flawless casting as the perfectly creepy Snape who seems to have it out for Mr. Potter. The main mystery is the titular Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone). It can create an elixir of life that must be guarded by Hagrid’s three headed dog Fluffy. They get many answers out of a reluctant Hagrid who’s also harboring a pet Norwegian Ridgeback. That gets them and Malfoy detention in the Forbidden Forest. Where Harry encounters his unicorn killing dark rival. Only to be saved by a centaur who explains how weakened the wizard has become. Christmas is always important in Harry Potter since something pivotal always happens. In this case it’s Ron playing Wizard’s Chess, Harry receiving a nifty Invisibility Cloak as a present, and Harry sneaking past bitter caretaker Argus Filch (played by David Bradley) to get answers.
The Mirror of Erised is discovered by Harry as well. In it he finally sees his parents in bit of wish fulfilment. When they put the clues together, Hermione stuns Neville long enough for them to sneak into the chamber. They avoid a musically incapacitated Fluffy, Hermione relaxes everyone out of a Devil’s Snare plant, Harry seeks a flying key with a broom, and Ron plays a fine game of real life Wizard’s Chess. At least two obstacles are omitted in the film version. The climax sees Harry come face to face with… Professor Quirrell?! Turns out he was behind everything and is the one harboring Lord Voldemort on the back of his head in a freaky display. Ian Hart does double duty as both Quirrell and the Dark Lord. Despite not casting a single spell in the entire movie, Harry successfully defeats Voldemort with the power of love. Burning Quirrell with his own touch.
Although rated PG for the younger fans, The Sorcerer’s Stone can still get away with moments like that. Dumbledore comforts Harry and Gryffindor makes a come from behind victory thanks to last minute points awarded to the trio and even Neville. With a last goodbye from Hagrid, Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave year 1 at Hogwarts. Although I avoided seeing the movies when I was a kid, The Sorcerer’s Stone did make me feel young again. It was the highest grossing film of 2001 (narrowly surpassing the similar Lord of the Rings). The fevered response even earned it three Oscar nods for Best Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a brilliant start that breathed life into a magical world.
Followed by: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets