Review: An enchanted, spirited 'Potter'
Sparkling, if a little light
By Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone" is -- to borrow a phrase from a popular breakfast cereal's advertising campaign -- magically delicious.
To say this screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's wildly successful book has kids and their parents champing at the bit is an understatement on par with saying Michael Jackson has had just a little work done on his nose. The making -- and marketing -- of this film has been planned like the invasion at Normandy, and this is D -- or should that be P -- day.
The screenplay by Steven Kloves ("Wonder Boys," 2000), with plenty of input from Rowling herself, covers most of the bases from the original material. In fact, at times, the film feels overly stuffed with "moments" from the book. It's as if the filmmakers were afraid to leave out any fan's favorite moment, so they jammed in a little taste of everything here and there.
That said, overall the sheer magic of the movie's spirit saves the day.
We first met Harry as an orphaned infant at the time he's being placed on his aunt and uncle's doorstep by the headmaster and headmistress of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These two imposing figures, Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall -- played, respectively, by the indomitable Richard Harris and Maggie Smith -- couldn't be better cast. These two British acting veterans are the perfect personification of Rowling's literary characters.
Ditto for the casting of Robbie Coltrane as gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape, Zoe Wanamaker as Madame Hooch and John Cleese as the Nearly Headless Nick.
Radcliffe perfect as Harry
But the whole success of the film falls on the casting of the three best friends who enter Hogwarts together as first-year students: Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe).
Young Radcliffe -- with his turned-up nose, round black glasses, and wide-eyed aura of beguiling amazement -- is perfect as Harry. He may not be the acting phenomenon that is Haley Joel Osment, but he is a whole lot better than poor Jake Lloyd from "Star Wars: Episode One." Radcliffe did have some acting experience; Watson and Grint did not, but they also acquit themselves extremely well. Watson has just the right degree of brainy smugness, while Grint plays the clown to perfection.
After introducing us to Harry's muggle (i.e., human) aunt and uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley (played by Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw), and depicting the treatment poor Harry gets at home, the story quickly advances to his admittance into Hogwarts.
Soon young witches and warlocks-in-training are playing Quidditch games on broom sticks, dragons are being hatched, three-headed dogs are attacking, and candles are floating in thin air. But there is evil afoot at Hogwarts, and Harry and his friends must find out what it is before the school, and maybe even their fellow students, are destroyed.
Not edgy or dark
Director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," 1990 and "Mrs. Doubtfire," 1993) promised to stay faithful to the book, and he did. However, his touch can be a little too sentimental and light. There could have been a little more weirdness, edginess, and darkness to this story about magic spells, dark incantations, and rampaging Orcs.
Other directors purposed for the film included Ivan Reitman, Steven Spielberg and Terry Gilliam. Of the three, it would have been very interesting to have seen Gilliam's take on this material. But never mind.
Special effects be damned, nothing replaces good old-fashioned imagination. Many lovers of the book will have already imagined the story in a much more spectacular way then any movie could ever achieve. But the production design is a marvel, thanks to Stuart Craig's detailed sets, while Judianna Makovsky's costumes are unique.
There have already been four Potter books published, and supposedly three more are on the way. The second movie, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," is already in production for a release in 2002. Let's hope that the following sequels will be allowed to tackle the darker sides of the Potter legend.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is not perfect and it could have been better. But it will please more than it disappoints, and it will make millions.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" opens nationwide on Friday, November 16, and is rated PG. Warner Bros. is an AOL Time Warner sister company of CNN.com.
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