Written by: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis
The first installment of a film series sets the tone and must build out the world for everything that will come in later. A large task to take on, especially if it comes from beloved source material and fans who will certainly have harsh opinions if completed in a way that displeases them. On this account, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone certainly succeeds beautifully but ultimately gets hampered by its need to create larger stakes and danger.
Recently orphaned child of famous wizards, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) grows up under the supervision of his abusive aunt and uncle. When reaching the proper age, he receives an invitation from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and he learns about his heritage and the powers he has. In making new friends and learning plenty, he also discovers his connection to the evil wizard who shall not be named.
Sorcerer’s Stone serves as an entryway to a beloved franchise, one that has gained the adoration of many, including myself. It has become famous for creating a world where others feel included amongst their friends that may be considered outcasts. Something genuinely precious and this film absolutely nails the world-building necessary to establish all of the other features looking to dig a little deeper into everything. It all begins with Harry and the type of character he represents. A simple representation of the hero’s journey, he lives the early part of his childhood under some truly vile family members that are cruel to him to an almost comical degree. Potter represents kids all over the world in bad home life situations with the potential to be something great and it makes sense why his story resonates with so many.
As Harry gets to Hogwarts, he meets what will become the trio carrying this story forward, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Right from the beginning, the personalities of these characters shine to establish what they represent. Ron, the bumbling idiot no one can stay mad at for too long, and Hermione, the incredibly intelligent if not distancing figure with her demeanor around others. They play perfect complements to Harry in his early journey and the little bright spots held between them will warm the heart and prepare us all for what will come.
Along with introducing the characters, this film helps create the balance of what these earlier stories in the book series try to emulate. It tells tales both accessible to children, while also adding enough peril to make things interesting in the end. The sequences introducing Hogwarts to these young children feel like blissful fantasy. Getting to be sorted into houses where you will make friends and, of course, the feasts. It’s beyond me how every student at Hogwarts has a healthy heart with the giant feasts they put together for these students. To this day, it still stuns me but it also plays into the whimsical and fantastical nature of this story making anyone wish they could attend the school. However, things do get darker, which will become a recurring theme throughout all of the features. Shifting into the more serious aspects of the film is where the film begins to stumble.
With all of the world-building going on in the feature, the second part of the film’s title feels like a complete afterthought. Clocking it when watching the film again, there’s about an hour left by the time this idea of the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, I know I know). This race to get this MacGuffin weirdly just feels tacked onto the story as something that needed to get done for the sake of moving the narrative forward. In a sense, it felt like a jarring turn of events, especially when the climax does not match the tone of what preceded the moment. Certainly, a hard balance to strike but one that could have been handled with a bit more cohesion.
On top of the surprisingly strong work put on by the child actors, who will continue to do honor to the actors they portray, the supporting cast comes with absolute heat. This series brings in almost every white British actor of note and it all begins here in the first one. From John Cleese, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Julie Waters among others. It just becomes a fun game of pointing out the incredibly talented folks serving as the support system for these kids and the film never loses sight of it. These incredible actors remain supporting, as the film hinges on the work of these children, and all works so well.
A properly fun, heartwarming, and engaging introduction, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone builds the intrigue of this world and the tough road ahead for the young titular character. Filled with enough whimsy and heart to win over any skeptics and setting up for what will become a fairly epic slate of films, this film brings high levels of enjoyment and makes for a fond revisit.