I was first introduced to the dark but magical world of Harry Potter several years ago by my mother, a third-grade teacher.
The young British wizard's first year of exploits at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had become the talk of her class, and my mom decided to pick up a copy and de-muggle herself.
After devouring it in just a few days, she offered a simple yet all-telling description one night at the dinner table: "It's a great story that's very entertaining and clever. And the characters were just wonderful."
Three years and three books later, the first adaptation of author J.K. Rowling's seven-book series deserves the same review.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone will not be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and if the buzz proves true, it might not be able to hold a candle to the other blockbuster fantasy of the holiday season, The Lord of the Rings (opening Dec. 17). But even in all the hype that its November unveiling produced, Potter nonetheless delivers with magical results.
To begin with, the story (though condensed) blessedly sticks to its literary source. We follow Harry in his first year at Hogwarts and his subsequent introduction to life as a wizard, the game of quidditch, the mysterious sorcerer's stone and the evil Lord Voldemort, who has been after him since killing his parents when he was a baby. Steven Kloves' script is sharp, funny and terrific, and does what every film adaptation should do--stick to the original.
But an adaptation cannot merely be graded on how faithfully it adheres to the plot of its book. The characters and magical universe that Rowling penned and that her readers imagined must also ring true. They do. And the work of director Christopher Columbus, as well as of the entire cast and technical crew, is perfect.
Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter. Some criticized his acting abilities, especially during the first few scenes, but as an 11-year-old kid who has just learned that he's a wizard, Radcliffe's starry-eyed wonder is right on.
Harry's best friends and partners-in-crime, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Ruppert Grint) are exactly as I imagined, in both appearance and mannerism. Watson balances Hermione's sort-of-annoying book smarts and eagerness to make friends, as Grint plays with Ron's wit and burgeoning courage. (I love how their budding more-than-just-friends relationship is hinted at here, though we probably won't see them start dating until the fifth book).
Then there's Hagrid. If Potter is to win an Oscar, Robbie Coltrane should be the recepient. His performance, much like Hagrid himself, is immense and hysterical.
The other main characters--most notably Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Dark Arts Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and nemesis Draco Malfoy--are just as multi-faceted as I had hoped they'd be.
Kudos also to the design and special effects team. If this isn't the Hogwarts and quidditch that children (and many adults) around the world have dreamed about for the past several years, then I've been reading the wrong books.
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If you haven't read the books, pick up Sorcerer's Stone before seeing the film. A movie should be able to stand firmly apart from its literary source--and this one does--but the true triumph of Potter can be realized only after experiencing the joys of Rowling.
And as my mom said after reading the second book, it only gets better. Next November, and the second film, are only 11-and-a-half months away.