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Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Rated PG

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Richard Harris

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

I write this review on the eve of the opening of Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, the second in the Harry Potter movie series. Of course, before Harry was a movie sensation, he was a literary sensation. I was a little slow in seeing the first movie in the series. I was also a little slow in reading the first book in the series. However, after seeing this movie, I don't think it will take me as long to read the second book or see the second movie. Count me among those that Harry Potter has enchanted.

Harry Potter is the son of two of the most famous wizards ever. Unfortunately, he doesn't know it. All he knows is that his parents were killed and he was entrusted to his aunt and uncle as a baby. He has a curious lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, but he's never given its significance much thought. How could he? While living with his aunt and uncle, he's been treated like a third-rate errand boy. He sleeps in the small cubbyhole under the staircase. He's forced to make his caretakers breakfast in the morning.

Shortly before his 11th birthday, Harry begins receiving letters from the Hogwarts School of Wizardry. Harry's uncle strains to keep the letters from him, but he is unable to do so (in one of the film's classic moments.) The school's gamekeeper, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), comes to fetch Harry and take him off to the school that holds the key to his future and his past. Hagrid informs Harry of the truth surrounding his parents' death and the significance of the scar on his forehead. It seems that Harry is a lot more well known than he realizes.

At Hogwarts, Harry meets Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), who become the friends with whom he'll undertake many adventures. He meets the staff and faculty of Hogwarts, including Headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, looking like an older Trent Reznor) and Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart). He also stumbles onto a plot involving the theft of The Sorcerer's Stone, which promises immortality to whomever possesses it.

Having read the book, I was amazed at how faithful the movie is to its source material. Not only does the movie follow the book's original vision, but it also does a great job of cramming most (if not quite all) of the high points into a two and a half hour running time. Kudos to screenwriter Steve Kloves for respecting the J. K. Rowling original.

Chris Columbus' direction is also worth noting. The pacing of the film, which is admittedly for a young audience, is brisk but not hurried. The characters are given time to grow on the audience and breathe a bit. Although the movie is geared toward an age group with a generally short attention span, this film does not seem a minute longer than an hour and a half, even though it runs nearly twice that long.

Daniel Radcliffe, who had previously appeared in only one other film, is excellent as the young Harry. He brings a good range of emotions to the character, who is at once heroic, confused, tragic and magical. Harry Potter is a classic character and Radcliffe is the perfect on-screen embodiment. The previously unknown Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are solid as Harry's friends. Most enjoyable though -- other than Radcliffe -- is Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. He brings the perfect blend of likeability and power to this hulking character.

Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone is one of those rare films that clicks on all levels. This could have easily been a smash-and-grab assault on the wallets of kids who'd been salivating to see Harry's adventures come to life on the big screen. In truth, it's a film that was obviously created with care and respect for both the original material and the fans who love the characters.

Trivia: The movie is known as "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" everywhere except the USA and so every scene in which the Philosopher's Stone was mentioned was filmed twice, once with the actors saying "Philosopher's" and once with the actors saying "Sorcerer's". (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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