Sometimes the best plan is to do things by the book. With over 100 million Harry Potter readers desperate to rush down cinema aisles to see their hero on the big screen for the first time, you can't blame Chris Columbus for sticking close to J.K. Rowling's novel. It's one thing to let your imagination loose with the words on the page; it's another to have those images backed up by a multi-million dollar Hollywood budget. And from the gripping very first sight of an owl perched on the Privet Drive road sign to the cheeky happily ever after closing shot of the Hogwarts Express pulling away from the station with the majestic school sitting high on the hills behind, we know that every golden galleon has been well spent. Thriving on audience recognition; is why this faithful adaptation won't fail to win over the book's fans with its 'wow' factor.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has one advantage over so many other blockbusters: it already knows that it's the first in a series, so it doesn't have to become a self-contained hit movie before its sequels can receive the green light. This means it deliberately takes its time setting up the characters and the scenario before, like the book, pulling in a quest-cum-whodunit plot to provide a crescendo to climax. It’s ending with a twist at the hands of Severus Snape incriminating the not so innocent character of Professor Quirrell as Voldemorts insight to this bewitching world of magic. This structure is fine for the initiated, but it might leave first-timers feeling a bit uncomfortable with the shape of the movie. And because it's more of a kid’s film than the book was just a kid’s book, the two-and-a-half hour running time is bound to provoke some cinema squirming from young viewers. There can be few people in the country who know nothing of the Harry Potter phenomenon. The legions of fans have all spoken with the same voice, calling for the film to remain faithful to the book. Fear not. Aside from some minor changes to keep the film beneath the whopping two and a half hours that it became, J.K. Rowling's wonderful story remains intact.
For the muggles out there who are unfamiliar with the story, it follows the adventures of 11-year-old Harry Potter, an orphan with a tragic past and an uncertain future. Unloved by his Aunt and Uncle, Harry is invited to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There his adventures begin as Harry and friends Ron and Hermione, attempt to unravel the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone, playing Quidditch alongside with one or two deadly duels. During the adventure they battle with Trolls and a magical three-headed dog, not to mention Potter's arch nemesis Lord Voldemort.
The special effects bring the whole magical world to life. The aerial sequences in the Quidditch match stand up against all odds as being the best. Small children may find some of the effects particularly scary; but as the older ones will tell them, being frightened is half the fun. Columbus ensures there's a bit of on-screen magic coming our way every couple of minutes, and not just in the shape of expensive effects action, violence, and drama. Near-perfect casting ensures character colour from the adult actors and allows the central trio of kids (Radcliffe, Grint and Watson) to prove that three heads are better than one (unless your name is Fluffy).
Sympathetic and strong, brave and believably ordinary, he becomes the audience's counterpart in this weird world of witches and wizards. Assembling a young and inexperienced cast is always a risky business but on the whole the gamble has paid off. Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role is a prime example. He pulls off the daunting task of being onscreen for 95% of the film, without losing our interest or affection, with some aplomb. Coltrane as cuddly giant Hagrid and Grint as Harry's cheeky chum, Ron, steal some scenes, but it's Radcliffe who leads us through Harry's journey from open-jawed underdog to pint-sized hero.
For the past couple of years few homes in the country would not have heard the lament "When is the next Harry Potter book out?" Now director Chris Columbus and his team have created a mini-masterpiece that will have fans screaming the same question about the next installment of the film.
Early in the film the loathsome Uncle Vernon tells young Harry that "There's no such thing as magic". Well, he's got it all wrong. This book turned film is just that...