Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Review

Nostalgia can turn a man desperate to reconnect with happier times, simpler times, when the most taxing part of the world was the build-up to secondary school or returning a book to the library. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that for so many. So much for so many. There is no way of cutting through it without bias because of how close it resonates, how many lost afternoons sitting comfortably with the parents around Christmas were founded on the world J.K. Rowling created and Christopher Columbus adapted, arguably better. Columbus, ironically given his name, pioneers the Harry Potter franchise to a developed strand of features that were set to be the next big fantasy entity.

It is miraculous that Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring did not completely crush the marketability of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Different strokes for different folks, though. Some wanted gritty orcs and ugly deceit in the J.R.R. Tolkein world, others wanted a ginger kid talking about snot-flavoured beans with a boy wonder who survived a wizard that killed his parents. All is fair in the Potter world. It is hard to escape the nice and surreal worldbuilding Columbus goes for here. He reaches for more colour, looser rules with the fabric of the world around him and turns his hand at visualising all the popular spots that would come to define an entire audience. He turns Diagon Alley into a Frank Gehry exhibit, the grounds of the castle look less like a magical realm than they do Durham. Maybe The Library really is down the road, then.

What is actually down the road for this exciting ensemble of characters is a fairly standard time. Standing out above all else in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is its ability to blend lighter tones with some exceedingly darker themes that are relied on in later features. There is a good balance to this Columbus piece, buoyed surprisingly well by the Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint trio at the core of this feature. They are neither uncomfortably dull to watch as leading performers nor are they even able to overstep the mark of what is a relatively safe, family feature. That is not to chastise the first in the series though. Much of the groundwork here builds up an accessible world for new moviegoers, who are likely the same age or even younger than the leading trio at the heart of it.

Certainly oriented more toward the youth of the audiences than the terrors that would soon be laid out for them in future instalments, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a huge beast of a film that dedicates much of its time to plant the seeds of supporting performances and fleshing out the world around it. Some of it is feeble on reflection, but there is no glancing past the Robbie Coltrane or Alan Rickman performances, the supporting work from Maggie Smith or even the stalwart efforts of Tom Felton. There are grand responsibilities and a great deal of trust placed on actors who mark their first big-screen outing with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and it is a credit to Columbus and the veteran actors surrounding this feature that the trio that form the emotional core of this film series begin so well.

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