Click here 5 stars

Bringing
out the
Magic

Maggie Smith, Daniel Radcliffe
A fine director, a great cast and excellent production
bring J.K. Rowling's wonderful tale to the screen
— and to an excellent DVD set for home play


"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

Reviewed by John Orr

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Robbie Coltrane
Robbie Coltrane

Emma Watson
Emma Watson


Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman

Richard Harris
Richard Harris


ZoŽ Wanamaker
ZoŽ Wanamaker


Rupert Grint
Rupert Grint
You probably already know this, but the movie version of "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone" is a delightful representation of the wonderful novel from J.K. Rowling.

If you care about the Harry Potter books at all — and chances are you do, since they are the most popular fiction books in history — you have probably already seen the movie and have your own opinion of it.


DVD notes

The movie is a blast to have at home, and I — as always — recommend the wide-screen version, although it is available in pan & scan. There are too many beautiful Hogwarts details to give up if you get the version "formatted to fit your screen."

The DVD comes in two discs: The first has the movie itself; the second has a pile of other stuff, including games and other challenges for both DVD players and computers.

One odd trick of the DVD set is that it doesn't easily give up the location of the deleted scenes (and some other treats). It helps to have had a curious child with some free time to figure it out, as did my friend Glenn Lovell, who is a film critic.

His boy figured out the steps to get to the deleted scenes, which are well worth some effort to find.

Here's how to do it: On the second disc menu, click on the owl for Diagon Alley. Click on on five bricks (it's hard and not absolutely necessary to find the exact five in order) eventually they'll slide out of place and send you to three signs. Click on the key at the bottom of the Gringott's sign, then go to Gringott's and click on the money. Go back to the Diagon Alley menu and click on the Olivander's sign. The correct wand box is in a black box to your lower right. Then go back to the main menu and select classrooms; get to that menu and click on the twin-owl base, and you will be asked to make a series of choices. You'll need to select the flute, small flying key that is midframe and the round bottle. Simple. Heh, heh.

Still, I don't have a web site so I can keep my opinions to myself, so I offer this opportunity for you to see how well your opinions jibe with mine. And, maybe, just maybe, one of the four or five people on the planet who haven't read the books and seen the movie will read this and be encouraged to correct those oversights.

The biggest surprise for me in the DVD was Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. For some reason I'd been disappointed by how he was used in the film when I first saw the movie in the theater. But when I got the DVD at home, Rickman was great in the role, which is exactly what I'd expected of him in the first place.

From the first time (of many) I read "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone," I envisioned Rickman as Snape. He was so brilliant in "Die Hard" as Hans Gruber, leader of the bad guys, and was even great in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves," which otherwise was execrable. Rickman can be the essence of seething nastiness when he wants to be, and exude incredible charm in the next moment.

I'm not sure what happened between the big screen and the DVD to make me feel different about it. Magic? Or, maybe I just calmed down a bit and could better appreciate his performance and the construction of the movie. I'm happy to be able to say, after watching the DVD, that it is a real treat to have it at home.

For the four or five people on the planet who haven't read the book and seen the movie, it is the story of Harry Potter, who was orphaned as a baby and raised by cruel and stupid relatives.

On his 11th birthday he receives a mysterious letter — probably the first anyone has ever sent him — addressed with admirable specificity to"Mr. H. Potter, the cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey."

There is some fuss as his moron aunt and uncle try to keep the letter from him, but eventually a huge man named Hagrid arrives and forces the issue. Then Harry learns that he is a wizard and that he has been accepted to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Before long, Harry (and the rest of us) learn that there is a whole world of wizardry out there, but (mostly) it is kept hidden from the "muggles" — regular humans. The witches and wizards just don't want to have to be bothered by a bunch of requests from muggles.

Harry also learns that his mother and father were a great wizard and witch and that they'd been murdered by an evil wizard named Voldemort. Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, too, but his evil spell had somehow ricocheted off Harry's forehead — leaving a lightning-shaped scar — and severly injured Voldemort, who hasn't been seen since.

So off Harry goes to Hogwarts, where he begins what is to be a seven-year course in wizardry, learning about potions, spells, broomstick-riding and Quidditch, the wizard game that is a cross between basketball, rugby and the Reno air races. He meets and becomes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and the three are immediately thrown in to a series of increasingly dangerous adventures.

The series, by J.K. Rowling, if not actually bewitched to be charming to readers, is filled with the same kind of magic that makes other great kids-vs.-the-world books work. If you loved "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry Finn" or even Tom Swift or the Hardy Brothers or Nancy Drew mysteries, chances are you will love Harry Potter even more.

Rowling writes with a ton of charm and creates a world that is delightful to enter.

Worried at work, harried at home? Escape to the brilliantly realized world of Rowling's wizards and witches. Rowling took hundreds of years of folklore about witches, wizards, trolls, gremlins, ogres, ghosts, vampires, unicorns, dragons and other magical creatures and tied them together with a wink, smile and flash from her magic wand (well, a pen or pencil and a notepad, in a Scottish cafe) and created something new and delightful.

Woe betide a filmmaker who would screw up a movie of such popular books!

But, thankfully, Chris Columbus did a fine job realizing Harry's magical world, beautifully creating the scarlet Hogwarts Express train, Diagon Alley — the magical shopping mall in London — and Hogwarts itself.

And, the casting was done wonderfully, from Daniel Radcliffe as Harry to the great Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. Maggie Smith was excellent as Professor McGonigle, and a special Oscar should have been awarded to ZoŽ Wanamaker's eyes, in her role as Madame Hooch.

Which brings us back to Alan Rickman as Snape, the creepy professor of potions, who lusts to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.

He's ideal for Snape, who for reasons unknown (in the first book, anyway) seems to hate Harry Potter and who is immediately suspected when evil doings begin to unfold.

Rickman is great in the role.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

Probably you have already seen and enjoyed it in the theater. It has made a TON of money in theaters, and is now selling well as a DVD and video tape. DVD
VHS tape.

See cast, credit and other details about "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" at Internet Movie Data Base.