Harry Potter And The 
Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

I can picture myself at the Potters Anonymous meeting now... 'Yes, I'm 30 and I've read all the Harry Potter books and, er, well, I quite liked them actually. Not great works of literature you know, rather in the vein of Enid Blyton, but entertaining and the kids like them...'

So, I suppose it was rather inevitable I would take a chance on seeing the film. Despite director Chris Columbus' dubious history, I decided not to dwell and the fact that he brought us the shudderingly awful Bicentennial Man and Nine Months and the, in my opinion, highly dubious Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire, and chose instead to remember the fact that he is the man who penned Gremlins.

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The plot follows the books, religiously, and when I use that word I mean it in an almost 'cult-like' fashion. Columbus is so eager to stick to the book that he puts the whole damn thing on a untouchable pedestal, refusing to cut even the most irrelevant of scenes. Now the books are good, but they aren't that good. I never thought I would see the day when I criticised a film for being too slavish to a novel, but if ever there was one, this was it. It is way too long at two-and-a-half hours. I could hear children all about me getting restless.

Just in case there is a person alive still unfamiliar with the plot, it is the tale of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), our hero, who survives an attack of black magic as a child in which his parents are killed by evil wizard Voldemort, and is left orphaned, yet with a fetching lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He then lives a life of drudgery for 11 years at the hands of his horrid Aunt and Uncle Dursley (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) and obnoxious cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), before discovering that he is, in fact, a wizard and is whisked away for a series of high jinks at Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards.

While at the school he makes jolly good friends with jolly upstanding types Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), while making an enemy of rotter Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and together they muddle along trying to thwart Voldemort a second time.

So, was the magic there? Well, the cast most certainly was - at least as far as the seniors were concerned. Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Zoe Wanamaker and Maggie Smith, to name but a few, all put in an appearance and it is these old hands who are the best aspect of the film. Coltrane is perfectly suited to the gigantic-yet-soft-hearted school groundskeeper Hagrid and the others on fine form as the teaching collective, with Richard Harris, in particular, seeming straight out of the book as Albus Dumbledore. Alan Rickman deserves a special mention as he is, yet again, tragically underused, this time as poisons master, Snape, while David Bradley is simply marvellous as the creepy caretaker, Filch.

But this film had a lot of problems. Firstly and perhaps most surprisingly for an American-funded and expensive film, it had all the feel of a Children's Film Foundation offering from the Seventies. Some of the actors, such as Maggie Smith and Leslie Phillips (who plays the voice of the sorting hat) have been around since then, but many of the others could have been easily swapped with the likes of Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Sim.

Ron Weasley, in particular, was very reminiscent of a young Keith Chegwin and, sadly, had about the same measure of acting ability. All the children, in fact, were very, very, very stilted in their dialogue and at times their delivery was almost laughable - certainly, the children in recent release The Others were much more convincing.

And why Columbus felt the need to largely cast children with upper middle-class accents is beyond me. In the books, Hermione, Harry and Ron are all supposed to be from 'normal' working/middle class homes and I was particularly offended by the way they turned Hermione into a snobbish individual. In the books she has plenty of know-how, but not in the holier-than-thou way she is scripted here.

Which brings me to the second problem. All the children seemed to be of public school ilk, except for the poor old fatboy Neville who, naturally, was from Yorkshire and the jolly sportsman, who was Scottish. The accents as a whole were pretty arbitrary - with Maggie Smith adopting her Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Scots brogue, while Coltrane opted for West Country for no apparent reason. The lack of anything other than caucasian children or teachers save for one bit part was also very noticeable and struck me as particularly odd, considering that Hogwarts isn't supposed to be a public school, but rather one to which anyone with magical talent can go. Sorry, I may be overanalysing this here, but it was noticeable.

This film isn't a total miss. The special effects are pretty good throughout, particularly in the dining hall, a pretty fab chess tournament and a game of Quidditch - although the latter was way too long. I was rather disappointed to see a continuity glitch in the dining hall, too, in that at the two main banquets at opposite ends of the year, the same food appears to be on the table. Draco is sitting next to a rather fine joint of meat and a bowl of corn on the cob in both and I would have thought they could have switched the food round a bit at the very least.

This film can never really shake the fact the children aren't particularly talented and there was surprisingly little humour on display. I only heard the audience laugh properly once at the screening I was in, when a troll got a wand up its nose, and the children seemed incredibly downbeat as they left the cinema. When I left Shrek the air was full of kids talking to their parents about there favourite bits, but after this they just looked, well, tired.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2006
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Philosopher's Stone packshot
The boy wizard's first adventure.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Chris Columbus

Writer: Steven Kloves, based on the novel by J.K.Rowling

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Leslie Phillips, Zoe Wanamaker

Year: 2001

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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