Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998/2001)

 

Book

Written by J.K. Rowling

The first book will always hold a special place in my heart. Fact of the matter, however, is that every book in this series will. As such, some of these reviews may or may not be somewhat biased, somewhat slanted, and in the favorable realm, but that is just the way it is, and it all starts with book, and year, number one. Nobody knew who J.K. Rowling was before Harry Potter. She was just a single mom in Scotland. Then she created this world, this cast of characters that changed her life and mine.

Harry Potter is a great character, and the world he lives in may be greater. I like to compare the idea of this world to that of Toy Story. It’s something that is imagined that we don’t know about. Like the toys come to life when we aren’t around, there are magical people fighting evil right under our noses. It is fascinating what Rowling is able to achieve. Her writing is simple, as can be expected from a non-career author, but that is part of the beauty of it all. It reads like a big stick of butta this book. As unnatural as the story is, the reading of it and the unfolding of the story seems so natural to me.

How something like this can be such an easy read I cannot analyze, and I will not attempt to. Let me say this, I am not a great reader. I have not read about 99% of the “classics” and am not an avid reader, though I am trying to remedy that, but this book was different. It was never a struggle to flip to the next page, the next chapter, and eventually the next book. Rowling is a godsend in the fact that she has harbored the imagination of millions of children, not to mention adults too. And in addition she has taken this imagination and expanded it. It is weird to me going back and reading this again after having seen the movies because I imagine in my head what I have seen in the movies now, but I wonder what I imagined it like back before the movies. What did Hogwarts look like? What did the characters look like?

I haven’t really touched on the book yet at all other than to say it is awesome. Well, I don’t know how much I really have to say about the book. The story is amazing, the characters are amazing, and the world is amazing. What about Quiddich?! What an invention!? And the different classes and the world of Hogwarts!? Rowling had such an imagination and does a perfect job of expressing it in this book. Like I said, I hold this book in special regard simply because it created the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The other books already had this established before them, in context and in the mind of the readers. This one has to build a foundation from scratch and what Rowling does is cast a spell I’m not even sure Hermione could conjure. Well, let’s be honest, she probably could, but…


 

Movie

Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steven Kloves

I was in full Harry Potter mode when the first movie did come out and I can remember it well. I went with my whole family and my dad, the only one who had not read the book, fell asleep like he always does and we had to bump him awake to keep him from snoring. I can remember I was transfixed by what I was watching, but not so much because the movies was amazing, I mean I was still only 13 at the time, but more because all that I had read was now before my eyes, on a giant screen, and it was amazing to see. In this regard my first comment is on special effects, something that will probably come up a lot in this marathon, but I thought the effects were great in this movie.

It is strange also to think that the filmmakers had to go through literally thousands of auditions to find these untrained children for the roles of the Hogwarts students. And what is more is that they had to pick them for the series, otherwise the following films would be just weird. So in that regard they had a huge task, one that I would not soon want. But I must say that they did a decent job. I will only comment on their performances here, but I also want to applaud the filmmakers for landing so many veteran actors to fill out the cast as well. Working with greats like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane could only but help these young actors. And it is a joy to see all of them together. These veterans were all perfect choices in their respective roles. I can honestly say I could never imagine anyone else in their roles.

From the start of the series my two favorite characters on screen were always Hermione and Draco. Emma Watson and Tom Felton were great in their own little ways. Watson plays the know-it-all all too well and Draco has the sneer and bad temperament that is perfect for an eleven year old who thinks he runs the place. In addition, two of my favorite characters in the book, Neville and Seamus, are represented very well here too. Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville, is delightfully unaware just how out of it he is. You feel for him and am glad he makes the strides he does. The other two main kids, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are decent here. You can tell early on that Grint has a great sense of comedic timing and that Radcliffe, while maybe forcing it here, has the potential to be a decent dramatic actor. It was so strange going back and watching this one just for the simple fact that they were all so young back then.

The telling of the story by Columbus, an American director, is somewhat standard I have always felt. What makes this movie fun and so immensely watchable is, again, the world in which it takes place. This I credit to Rowling and the special effects team more so than to Columbus and his other collaborators. He adds very little style to the proceedings and runs through it like the popularity of it will carry it through to the end. And in effect it does. But I cannot say I was all that disappointed with it all. Unlike the book, the movie had the books to ground itself in. Without those it may have struggled with me. But I have talked to some friends of mine who never read the books, but said they greatly enjoyed the movie, so there is that. A decent start to a remarkable series if you ask me.

Adaptation

There is always going to be the issue, when a book is made into a movie, the problem of adaptation. The saying goes the book is always better than the movie. Here I would agree, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the filmmakers part. For the most part they remain pretty faithful to the original source material. Something that is difficult here, and will be compounded in later, longer books, is the length of the material. The film itself is nearly 2 ½ hours long. They included as much as they could in that span while not making it unbearable to have to sit through. That being said, I cannot recall too much that they actually left out. They did change some things, but not too drastically. The only thing I can think that they left out that I was disappointed they did was the potions section of the protection for the stone. Snape’s logic puzzle was one of the best parts of the maze for me in the book but I didn’t get to see it in the movie. As I said, all of what was changed or left out was done for reasons of time and I can totally understand that. And for that reason I can say that the adaptation of the first novel into movie form succeeds and I hold no grudges against the filmmakers in that regard.

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