Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Review
By Joe Lozito
The Wizard of Blahs
Okay, the answer is no, I haven't read the book from which director Chris Columbus' film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was adapted. I do, however, want to read it now. Not because the film was so good that I need to gorge myself on all the Harry Potter minutiae that the world currently has to offer. But because the film is so glossy, so flippant in its presentation of the world that author J.K. Rowling has spent her sizable novels dissecting, that I still don't have a good idea what all the fuss is about. It's no matter, however, since the film with its pre-determined audience is already a certified hit.
There are, however, ingredients in the film which are an indication of what could have been. The cast is first-rate from top to bottom. Richard Harris (channeling both Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi, if that's possible), Maggie Smith (who may actually be able to transmogrify into a cat) and a scenery-chewing Alan Rickman provide some wonderful moments as the faculty of Harry's school. And Robbie Coltrane outdoes even Robert DeNiro by not only gaining weight but growing a foot and a half for the role of Hagrid the Giant. The young actors give fine performances too: Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint (as Harry and his instant chum Ron Weasley) make a fine pair of meddling kids. And playing Nancy Drew to their Hardy Boys is the wonderfully precocious Emma Watson as Hermione Granger.
Of course, the director of Home Alone 1 and 2 is no stranger to coaxing precious performances from children. But perhaps Chris Columbus - who has always felt like Spielberg-lite - just got lazy with this film. I suppose, when your sequels are already written and sold, you don't have to try very hard. Only rarely during the course of the overly long film did I ever feel like I was watching something other than a Hollywood cash cow unfold before me. There were many moments of grandeur, but few of wonder - several moments of interest but few of suspense - many, many special effects, but precious little magic. In fact, by my count, there is only one scene of actual suspense, and it was not the hyper-kinetic game of airborne polo played on broomsticks. Instead, it involves the outcome of a deadly game of chess played on a life-size board. Unfortunately, the setup and payoff are delivered so quickly and delicately - no doubt to spare the younger viewers the nightmares - as to strip the scene of any real dread.
I'm just surprised the filmmakers didn't change the chess game to a baseball game. Aren't these the same people who renamed the movie from "Philosopher's Stone"?