I’ve known for some time now that I would eventually have to start watching the Harry Potter films since he’s had such an impact on geek/nerd culture, and culture as a whole. I never read the books myself, so it is difficult for me to fairly judge a film adaptation since I have no way of comparing it to its source material, I don’t know who to blame for problems with the story, and I don’t know who to praise for what was done well. Still, I decided to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m very glad that I did.
The story, based on a children’s book, makes the film seem really “children’s-booky,” which helps the film have childlike wonder, but keeps the characters from seeming realistic. The characters are interesting though, and they are generally performed well, with Richard Griffiths’ facial expressions making the first few scenes in the film almost enjoyable despite how annoyed I was that the “good guys” left the very important baby in the hands of abusive idiots and their beloved, despicable son. It’s not wise to make the audience this sad and angry at the very beginning of the film, but seeing as how Harry didn’t seem to have much of a personality to make him interesting until the second third of the film, I suppose they had to rely on his awful family life and his mysterious powers to make us interested in him.
Now, I get that there’s a lot of stuff that happens in this story, and the story spends a lot of time appropriately building to a fantastic climax with brilliant surprises, but part of adapting a book to a film is making the necessary changes that will make the story work better as a movie. In this case, it was being adapted to a family film, so an hour and a half would have been the ideal run time, but this film goes for two and a half hours, which is a bit longer than the average child or preteen can wait for the climax. Aside from that though, the film probably had the feel that J. K. wanted the story to have because just about every shot felt magical thanks to great cinematography and enchanting music.
Special effects and makeup is an area of film-making that I generally am not too focused on, but in this film I couldn’t help but focus on it. The makeup looks awesome on the creatures that required it, and many of the effects were really good-looking too… as long as they did not use computers. Whenever a shot had CGI, it looked like a DreamWorks remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The scene in which they played Quidditch looked like a remake Space Jam but with flying brooms and the cast of The Polar Express as the Looney Tunes.
The movie does leave me wondering about many things that it did not explain well, and there’s not much of an excuse for that since the movie had so much time to explain itself (I mean really, two and a half hours is a lot). However, it succeeded in making me get so attached to the characters and enchanted by this world that I really want to watch the sequels now, so I guess it did its job. For this reason, and because John Cleese, I think it’s definitely a film worth watching if you haven’t.