Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

Untitled-1I was 13 or so when I watched Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, and it must’ve had an impact on me because I went back to see it three times. Of course now I can’t remember what specific details brought me back, but after watching it many more times over the following years, I’ve found that it has not aged, nor has the fantastical world created by author J.K. Rowling diminished in awe and detail.

It is an awesome world away from our own. To reach it, you have to walk through a brick wall at the London train station and not worry about casual commuters finding it odd. If you do it right, you should end up on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters where a lovely red train called the Hogwarts Express will be waiting to ferry you to school. This school of witchcraft and wizardry, called Hogwarts, is a massive labyrinthine castle that sits atop a knoll overlooking a vast lake that most probably plays host to numerous frightening underwater creatures. It has towering spires and long hallways. Its rooms are smoky and dungeon-like. The paintings hanging on its walls can move and converse with you. Its central staircase is like a maze that shifts as and when it likes, usually leading students all over the place. And at night it looks like it wants to devour you whole. This is perfect because the movie’s plot centres around a dark secret that lurks deep within the castle walls.

Three brazen but naive kids (witches, wizards) will uncover this secret and try to stop it. They are Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson), who meet each other on the train and immediately hit it off, even if Harry and Ron find Hermione to be a little strange, and vice versa. The most important thing about their relationship is the fact that they work well together, and we can believe them. Harry is the oblivious newcomer who knows squat about the magical world, and we discover it through him. Ron comes from a poor family of about eleven, but they’re the kind of family who believes that happiness is not in wealth. Hermione is the brainy one, with her full head of knotted hair and limitless knowledge of spells and charms. She, as we will later find out, was born to non-magic parents (muggles), and so her wealth of knowledge is compensation for her apparent disadvantage.

The movie is also filled with a wide array of secondary and supporting characters. The other students, who will later become intrinsic to different parts of the Harry Potter universe, are played by a mish-mash of preteen youngsters. The adults, on the other hand, are handled carefully by veteran British actors who seem to know precisely how to deliver lines of gibberish about Wormwood and unicorn blood. We have the headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris), whose presence is always felt first and then seen. His leading teacher, Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith), who specialises in something called transfiguration and walks the fine line of being Harry’s mentor and mother figure. There’s Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman), the strange pale-faced wizard whose first love is Defense Against The Dark Arts. There’s Prof. Quirrell (Ian Hart), a twitchy and nervous wreck of a man who wears a turban. And there’s Hagrid the giant (Robbie Coltrane), groundskeeper of Hogwarts, and the first to really lead Harry into this new magical realm.

But the stars are the three young leads, who fight their way through bullies, trolls, three-headed monstrous dogs, detention, insults, flying keys, and killer chess sets. It sounds like a lot to handle, but director Chris Columbus never makes it impossible. Harry, Ron, and Hermione work as a cohesive unit. They cover for one another and genuinely seem to care about the welfare of their friends, teachers, and school. Naturally it’s their curiosity that leads the way, but when they’re faced with heavy adversity, they don’t back-tread; they move forward with fear, and then bravery. They navigate the endless corridors of Hogwarts as if they themselves are on an adventure, and the key to their success lies not in their skill, but in the cooperation of their efforts.

Till this day, hundreds of children across the globe want to be witches and wizards. Harry Potter, like James Bond, Star Wars, and The Lord Of The Rings, has entered the collective consciousness of the world. Did Rowling, Columbus, Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson know that they had built an empire of magic and fantasy? I highly doubt it. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone remains iconic because it is so humble. It doesn’t know how big it will become. It is a tale for kids that mixes perfectly elements of wonder, adventure, and fear. And it doesn’t even care that its leading boy, though cute, isn’t a good actor.

Best Moment | There are a number of good moments here. The final chess match is wonderfully scored and staged. The introduction to Hogwarts is also good.

Worst Moment | Daniel Radcliffe.

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