Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and is directed by Christopher Columbus.
I can’t remember the first time I watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. However, I do remember watching it again and again as a kid. How could I resist the allure of people my age performing magic and getting involved in adventures I could only daydream about? I was one of millions of people around the world immediately enraptured by the wizarding world. The impact Harry Potter had on cinema was unprecedented (expect perhaps for Star Wars) and even today, Harry Potter can still cause a frenzy in the world, as seen by the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The first movie in this series had a lot of work to do to sell the magical world to both fans of the books, and people who had never heard of Harry Potter before. What made it such a phenomenon was the attention to detail in every scene. From Ollivander’s haphazard sorting of various wand boxes, to the assortment of food available at any feast, the practical effects make the world feel real and allows it to look great even today, fifteen years after it was initially released. While some CGI moments like Firenze the centaur or the Matrix Reloaded-esque rubber people during the Quidditch match, do sometimes show the movie’s age, the world feels so fully realised that you are not drawn out of its reality.
Daniel Radcliffe was eleven while filming Philosopher’s Stone, the same age as his on-screen counterpart, and he plays Harry as the shy orphan who is constantly in awe of everything around him. Watson and Grint round out the trio by providing more personality to the core group of the movie. While Harry is shouldered with dealing with the burdens of child abuse, being an orphan and fighting the murderer of his parents, Ron and Hermione provide the lighter character moments of the film. The adult cast is filled to the brim with British acting legends, Maggie Smith playing the stern Professor McGonagall, the perfectly cast Alan Rickman as the dick-ish Professor Snape and Richard Harris in his first of two performances as Professor Dumbledore.
The plot is basic compared to the films to come, merely following Harry as he deals with becoming accustomed to Hogwarts and everything magical. The now famous moments still brim with a familiar electricity such as seeing the main three meet each other aboard the Hogwarts’s Express. It is nothing short of cinema greatness, their unique chemistry already on display as they introduce themselves to each other and the audience for the first time. Seeing the tower facade of Hogwarts coming into view as the boats sail to meet it will never get old. Columbus realises who his audience is and directs the film in such a way that every moment is shot to instill a sense of jealous wonder in the kids in the audience while also bringing out the inner child in the parents accompanying them.
The pacing is pretty well balanced, considering we are simply watching kids going through their first year at secondary school. The beginning of the movie does tend to feel a little slow after the amount of times I have seen it, and we all now know the (somewhat stupid) rules of Quidditch so these moments do tend to sag a little, but considering that they were needed to inform the uneducated audiences of 2001, they serve their purpose well.
The hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone is a wonderful way of showing off each of the character’s strengths and how they will aid Harry in the future. The chess match is a particular stand out, the movie once again mixing practical effects with CGI to wonderful results. Harry and Voldemort’s first meeting is the introduction of a proper dark tone to the series, the threat of death to an eleven year old boy is enough to do that, but Voldemort’s face protruding from the back of another man’s head is particularly nightmare-ish. (This adjective is taken from real life as eleven year old Jeremy had quite the nightmare or two after watching this movie at night on VHS).
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone serves as a great introduction to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Series long mysteries are established and the cast begins to come into their own as they go through the first adventure together. There is a reason that the franchise became the phenomenon it is today and if you haven’t gone back to the first film in a few years and want to get a heavy dose of sweet nostalgia, nothing will do the trick more than seeing Hagrid saying “Yer a wizard Harry.”
It still sends chills running down my spine.