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Arts & Culture

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Although decades apart, J. K. Rowlings

Harry Potter and J. R. Tolkeins

The Hobbitt and


The Lord of the Rings both offered a series of books that captured the imagination of kids and inspired them to read books hundreds of pages in length. So its oddly fitting that film versions of both arrive on screen within weeks of each other.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (opening November 16 throughout San Diego) is the first to arrive and the question Warner Brothers cant wait to have answered about its $125 million childrens epic is will the books fans be wild about the cinematic Harry?

Harry comes to the screen after some minor controversies. First, there were objections by some adults over the books use of wizardry and sorcerery as prominent story elements. But those complaints died down as book sales soared toward 100 million and kids eagerly awaited each new volume. Then came the controversy about bringing the beloved book to the screen. The announcement that the U.S. studio Warner Brothers had picked the very American director Chris ( Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire ) Columbus to helm the project raised fears that the books Britishness would be lost. But fans should have had confidence in writer Rowling who negotiated a deal that gave her considerable control over the production. As a result, the film version of Harry Potter boasts a fidelity to the text per Rowlings instructions and a British cast of veterans and newcomers.

The story involves an orphaned Harry Potter who's left on the doorstep of rather an inhospitable aunt and uncle. They force the boy to live in the cupboard under their stairs. Like Cinderella, hes abused and treated like a servant while his step brother/cousin is fawned over and spoiled. But on his 11th birthday, Harrys fairy godmother arrives in the form of a hulking giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who makes the announcement that Harry is a wizard and must now come to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for proper training. Harry (now played by the adolescent Daniel Radcliffe) is taken aback by the revelation but thrilled to escape his less than ideal life. Hagrid also reveals that Harrys parents were wizards who were killed by the evil Voldemort. Voldemort also tried to kill the infant Harry but failed, leaving only a lightening scar on Harrys forehead. Harrys ability to survive that attack has made him famous back at Hogwarts. But hell need more than fame to survive and succeed at the school where hell have to learn potions, spells and how to handle a broom and wand. At school he befriends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the film follows them through their first year at Hogwarts and their adventures involving the Sorcerers Stone.

Having only had a chance to begin reading the first Harry Potter book, I cannot attest to the films faithfulness to the source but fans at the screening expressed relief that the film was indeed much like the book. What I can attest to is that the film on its own is pleasing entertainment. But if there were not a fan base of a hundred million plus eagerly awaiting the release, this film would be far less likely to be a blockbuster. The film feels designed and packaged as a product rather than a work of art, something designed to bring in the books fans and not offend them. And if that was the intent than Chris Columbus is as good a director as any to bring the text to the screen. He has no particular vision or style but is competent at putting images on the screen. Interestingly, Terry Gilliam (the Ex-Pyhtonite who made the wildly inventive Time Bandits) was mentioned early on as a possible director. But he was probably rejected because he would have made Terry Gilliams Harry Potter rather than J. K. Rowlings and while that would have made for better cinema it would have been a much more risky endeavor in terms of pleasing Potter fans. Warner's choice of directors raises the question of whether a film is meant to be an exact replica of a book or if it should have a life of its own? Gilliam could have given the film life and a true sense of magic, Columbus gives us the events of the book and a lot of eye candy.


Fortunately for the film, the cast makes up for much of Columbus shortcomings. The trio of superb youngsters deliver spot on performance free of pretension and self-consciousness. They are a delight to watch and they are well complemented by the veterans of the cast. Maggie Smith and Richard Harris blend sternness and compassion as the two top wizards at the school. Robbie Coltrane is endearing as the gentle giant Hagrid who always tells too much. And best of the lot is Alan Rickman as a raven haired, ominous professor. In one delicious scene, he enters the classroom like John Housemans imperious professor from The Paper Chase and informs his young students that there will be no wand waving nonsense in his class. My only complaint is that we dont have enough time with these characters. A few less scenes of special effects and a few more with the characters would have been an improvement.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (rated PG for mild language and some scary moments) is a carefully crafted work that moves well considering its two and a half hour running time. It does not condescend to its young audience and it delivers considerable fun and plenty of splashy production value. But it seems to lack a spark of inspiration. But what critics have t say at this time is pretty moot because Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone is poised to break box office records as the millions of kids who waited in long lines at bookstores for each new volume now line up at theaters. Whether the film can create new Potter fans and inspire children to pick up Rowlings book remains to be seen.