This year marks the 15th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, originally) in theaters in the United Kingdom and North America. I remember fans being so excited for the film (I was one of those fans), and hoping it would capture the magic of the book. It did so, and it still holds up after all these years.
I have seen interviews with J.K. Rowling, Chris Columbus, and Steve Kloves, the driving forces behind this film. I am so glad Kloves was chosen for adapting the novel. He really seemed to understand the book, and he did a wonderful job incorporating all sorts of little details that made the book so beloved. Columbus also caught the vision and did a great job picking the actors for all the main characters and working with them so they truly became those characters.
I agree with the director, too: Daniel Radcliffe was the perfect Harry Potter. He had a certain naive sense of wonder throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that really fit the character. After growing up as a Muggle, and then finding out you’re a wizard, you’re bound to have a lot of, “Wow! This is just so cool!” running through your head. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint both nailed their roles, too. I think it is so lucky that all three of them were found for this film (and the subsequent film series).
John Williams—from the first notes of “Prologue” and “Harry’s Wondrous World” at the beginning of the film straight through to “Hedwig’s Theme” at the end—really enhanced the magic of the film. This score is one of my favorites of all time, and stands right up there with Star Wars and Superman as shining examples of William’s talent and skill in capturing the emotion of a film and telegraphing that to the audience with deftness (I don’t get to use that word very often, but it works really well here).
The special effects in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were mostly stunning at the time (things have improved a lot since then). Some of my favorite effects were the ghosts and the paintings. Even though the paintings are mostly in the background, I found it fun to see what was happening in them in any scene in which they appeared. I bet the effects artists had great fun coming up with all of those. Of course, my favorite ghost was Nearly-Headless Nick. I always love a good Cleese role.
The only special effects and scenes which didn’t quite hit the mark were the one involving Voldemort, the unicorn, and the centaur in the Dark Forest, and the final scene. It seemed like they bit off more than they could chew for those scenes, and a lot of shortcuts were taken with the animations. The animation wasn’t as clean. It felt “heavy” to me, like the difference between a crayon and a sharpened colored pencil. It didn’t ruin the film, but it did affect my enjoyment a little.
This film caught lightning in a bottle many times. It brought the book to life and embodied the spirit of that book. Despite its rare weaknesses, I still love Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I look forward to introducing it to my kids once they are old enough to enjoy them. I recommend this film to anyone who still has a sense of wonder.
Release Date: November 16, 2001 (UK/USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Original Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Language: 1 (mild, occasional)
Violence: 2 (some scary situations, a couple deaths, nothing too graphic)