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'Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone'

Good news for Potter-heads: 'Sorcerer's Stone' clings to the wizardry of the book

Friday, November 16, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Harry Potter is the world's best-known sorcerer apprentice, and his cinematic appearance has been anticipated only slightly less than the Messiah's. First and best decision of his makers was to eschew everything American and keep Harry's epiphany thoroughly British -- downright Dickensian, in fact.

In "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the influence of Dickens on J.K. Rowling is obvious and lovely, from our hero's orphan status at the outset through all his adventures and the names of friends and foes: nasty Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley Dursley keep him in the dark about the source of his supernatural skills. Once he makes his way to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Wizard-in-Chief Albus Dumbledore and catlike Professor McGonagall do a sublime job of cultivating those skills.

I confess to not reading the book in advance. What could be worse? On the other hand, what could be better? Blissful ignorance. I wanted to be the only critic in the galaxy who came to see a phenomenally heralded movie instead of a phenomenally heralded book-on-celluloid -- not to compare every scene with its progenitor on the page.

Familiar or un- with the text, you will be delighted by the special owl-delivery letters that flood into and flush Harry out of the Dursley domicile. Likewise, Harry's trip to the friendly goblin bank and wand store ("Fine Wands Since 382 B.C."). But I suspect you'll be most delighted by the fabulous Quidditch match. It's air polo -- a breathtaking sport played on flying broomsticks (a Nimbus 2000 is the coolest model) with dangerous little balls that have dangerous little minds of their own.

Hard to pick favorites, though: "Harry's" fine Animatronics are never put to better or subtler use than in that terrifying, larger-than-life chess game toward the end. And Fluffy the three-headed dog is a snarling darling.

Young Daniel Radcliffe is quite super in the daunting title role. The burden of the film's success or failure rests with him -- not special effects -- and he acquits himself masterfully with a wide-eyed but un-precocious performance that endears from the start. As boy-sidekick Ron, redheaded Rupert Grint (great REAL name) is thoroughly charming, too, though girl-sidekick Emma Watson is a rather too arch and bitchy Hermione for my taste.

'Harry Potter
The Sorcerer's Stone'

RATING: PG for some scary moments and mild language

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, John Cleese, John Hurt

DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus

WEB SITE: harrypotter.


Wild about Harry
Potter kids react


Robbie Coltrane as the kindly giant Hagrid, Harry's guardian shepherd, is excellent. So are Maggie Smith and Richard Harris as wiz-faculty and Alan Rickman as presumably villainous Snape. I'm not the biggest fan of John Williams who, in my jaundiced opinion, has been rewriting the same score over and over ever since he struck "Star Wars" gold. But this time, instead of cloying and sentimental, he has produced something truly original and exciting. I predict "Harry's" excellent music will soon be standing on its own in the concert -- or at least pops concert -- hall.

I didn't read the book but was no fool: Like Regis' insecure contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," I made sure to have an expert on hand in the person of Bill O'Toole, an encyclopedic font of information who also loaned me his much-read copy of Book One to read afterward. I did so, and found Consultant O'Toole correct in every particular, notably this:

Producer David Heyman and director Chris Columbus' reverential vows to stick close to the novel were kept -- perhaps too stringently. There's an assumption of too much a priori knowledge of the Potter story's cosmology, plus a certain inevitable disappointment in the realistic set renderings (the Hogwarts school scenes, for instance) vs. the magically surreal depiction of the main action. Columbus is competent pro ("Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire") if not an inspired auteur as director: "Harry" has some dull "Goonies"-like moments.

Ah, but then, the imagination is always superior to the concrete, which is why we owe a huge debt to Rowling for reviving the art of reading and making it a new 21st-century vogue among kids. So much the better if the movie version inspires long-in-the-tooth kids like this one to pick up and read it, too.

Better still if televangelists attack "Harry" for his godless sorcery, boosting book and ticket sales thereby! Harry's are the most enchanting satanic verses we and our children could get.

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