Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Short Take: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone [Film 1]

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first of J. K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful Harry Potter novels, makes a solid transition to film. The picture is exceptionally well produced. An army of designers and craftspeople have applied their talents to the realization of the Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards, and they’ve done themselves proud. The art direction, costuming, and special effects are outstanding. The screenwriter, Steve Kloves, does his usual graceful job. The dialogue is crisp, the individual scenes are well shaped, and the story has been nicely streamlined. The casting is also spot-on. Daniel Radcliffe is a convincing Harry Potter, the eleven-year-old boy who discovers he is a wizard. He is a bit outshone by Rupert Grint, who plays Harry's best friend Ron, and both are upstaged by Emma Watson as their other best friend, the precocious know-it-all Hermione. The supporting cast is a treasure trove of Britain’s finest actors, including Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, John Hurt, John Cleese, Julie Walters, Richard Griffiths, and Fiona Shaw, with best-in-show honors going to Robbie Coltrane, who plays Hagrid, the school’s groundskeeper. The director, Chris Columbus, has done a fair job of putting it all together. He’s not up to the storytelling challenges of some sequences--the Quidditch match in particular is a jumble--but he recognizes the drama in the scenes should come from the children’s performances. He also avoids the frantic tempo that has spoiled his work in other films. The scenes are allowed to find their own pace. Columbus’ work isn’t inspired, but it’s more than adequate> He gets the film series off to a good start.

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