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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Written by: Sean the Irish Bastard Published on: 25 Dec 2001

The first of Joanne Rowling’s seven projected Potter books reaches the silver screen at last, in two and a half hours of family entertainment. Shooting is already underway on the first sequel, but how does this first instalment fare?

Well, overall it’s a great film, true to the book, and a worthy adaptation. The grandiose Hogwart’s setting is well realised with some fantastic CG work, and effectively lit sets (we’ll forgive the painted backdrop outside the Dursley’s front hall).

The film isn’t without its flaws. Despite the long running time (although it doesn’t feel that long at all), the content of the book has been about as mercilessly treated as Warner Bros could probably get away with. The lead up to Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts is too brief and many memorable parts of the book are excised completely from the screenplay. However, the inclusion of just one Quidditch match was probably a sensible move. In general the decision seems to have been taken to remove certain whole sections rather than have a greater number of over-edited scenes, which in film-making theory is the correct path, especially in a family film.

And this is well and truly a family film, with only five bloodies, one bugger and an arse. Don’t look for subtle jokes, knowing winks and double entendres though, because there aren’t any.

The casting in the film is just about perfect. If you can forgive Emma Watson’s (Hermione) matter-of-fact drama school diction, the three child leads are spot-on. Daniel Radcliffe excels in the role of Harry which he was born to play. The interplay between they and Rupert Grint (Ron) shows great promise for the sequels as we watch the characters develop.

It’s a shame about having a peroxide Draco Malfoy, who is not quite the nemesis of Harry’s that he is in the book. As he gets older though, I’m sure he’ll become more menacing. A few of the cameo roles, like those of John Cleese and Leslie Philips (I kept waiting for the sorting hat to say “Ding, dong”) push a little to far towards all-star casting abuse, but none detract from the action, nor spoil the mood.

There’s some Spot-the-Actor fun to be had elsewhere, with Vernon Dursley played by Richard “Uncle Monty” Griffifths, John Hurt as the wand seller and Harry’s mother may be a familiar face to viewers of Cracker (speaking of which, Robbie Coltrane, made even bigger by computer, is a definitive Hagrid). And see if you can spot Warwick Davis and Verne Troyer in the Gringott’s Bank sequence.

Overall, I would recommend this film to anyone who’s curious to know what the fuss is about, but do yourself a favour and read the book first!

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