Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone (2001)

A wizardry cinematic adventure for the ages with magnificence in orchestral score, world-building, visual aesthetics, magic, & once-in-a-lifetime cast of child performances, HPATSS is a book-faithful escapist fantasy experience for a new generation of children and a special beginning feature amongst the best to-date of one of the top cinematic franchises. 9.2/10.

Plot Synopsis: Adaptation of the first of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novels about Harry Potter, a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents’ mysterious deaths.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A World-Famous Book Series

The Late-1990’s Saw J.K. Rowling’s Children Novels Break World Records For Bestsellers. The Ultimate Test Of Potential: The Movies

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

A small fantasy novel released on 26 June 1997 in the United Kingdom, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone saw a young wizard who discovers his magical heritage on his eleventh birthday receive an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. The rest was history, becoming a worldwide phenomenon selling over 500,000,000+ book copies worldwide (the #1 Bestseller Book Series of All-Time), an 13-film cinematic franchise grossing over $10 Billion at the Box Office, Merchandise, Universal Studios Theme Park Worlds, and an entire generation of children’s iconography of magic. On its 20th anniversary, we go back to the beginning – the film that paralleled its first novel’s comparatively-humble beginnings and was the preeminent litmus test of whether the premise was big or not. You can guess what the answer was, hugely due to this film catalyzing and exponentially visualizing the breathtaking world of Harry Potter. A wizardry cinematic adventure for the ages with magnificence in orchestral score, world-building, visual aesthetics, magic, & once-in-a-lifetime cast of child performances, Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone is a religious-parallel escapist fantasy experience for a generation of children and a special beginning feature amongst the top films to-date of one of the best cinematic franchises.

4 Privet Drive & Orchestral Score

An Establishing Scene Evoking Sympathy For The Orphan Boy; A Mysterious, Twinkling Masterpiece Blockbuster Score

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Most provocative from its night-set opening on Privet Drive is the film’s orchestral score: one of the best and most thematically-resonant ever recorded for a blockbuster. The legendary John Williams has done it again – crafting this witches’ brew of A Soundscape Of Magic that goes toe-to-toe with his other franchise-defining scores from Star Wars to E.T. to Jaws to Superman to Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park. The twinkling, mysterious, supernatural, maleficent magical-aesthetic Williams was able to create with ‘Hedgwig’s Theme’ (the leitmotif of the entire series to be interpolated throughout the rest of the sequels) is second-to-none – unsurprisingly, winning the 74th Academy Award for Best Score. Most great scores serve as an effective background to bring the narrative to life – this one transcended to take a life-of-its-own by a wildly-transportive cascade of soft strings and solo-celesta that mimics instrumentation choices from ‘Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy’ in Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet: The Nutcracker. Those light, airy plucked notes pave way for a flurry of violins into an avalanche of brassy booms to take over the main theme – and it is easily one of the most fantasy-invocative and magical/adventurous blockbuster scores, gliding across harmonics like a witch’s broomstick as one of the Top 7 scores Of All-Time In CLC’s vote. There is even some comedy and modern panache thrown in when we’re introduced to the snobbish, chubby, abusive Dursley family in their London flat that makes us feel sorry for a young orphaned Harry just coming to grips with his powers – setting the establishing scene before a giant named Hagrid tells him his true fate & whisks him away to Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry on his eleventh birthday.

The World-Building & Hogwarts Castle

The Biggest Achievement Of The Series: Building A Fantasy Cinematic World Like No Other – & The Ultimate School Experience

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Easily the biggest achievement of the film and franchise though is its backdrop: Hogwarts Castle. This is what elevated Harry Potter into a cultural phenomenon; Hogwarts is the ultimate school experience and one every kid I’ve ever known and I obsessed over the fantasy of going there and reimagined my school experience projecting it on real-life. The set-design and location settings are absolutely breathtaking – Leavesden Film Studios’ backlot and all the charm and historic glamour of the United Kingdom like New Yorkshire’s Goathland Train Station, Oxford University, Ainwick Castle, London Zoo, and Gloucester Cathedral. There is a reason the two most highly-debated idealistic fantasy worlds to live in amongst children are Hogwarts and Pokémon – being the two coolest and most imaginative/expansive escapist worlds and one that (although Pokémon is clearly the better option as soon as you behold the glory of what a Pikachu or Charizard is on your Game Boy Advance) I completely understand why Hogwarts is arguably a top choice. The world-building the film establishes is also what separates its magnificent accomplishments from that of its series kin – all of the creation and myth of the HP-universe started here and it deserves lifetime medals for the pure magical fantasy its visual and set-design craftsmen were able to create here. The cinematography further establishes the aestehetic and fun magical atmosphere with tons of deep, rich royal blues and magic symbolism/references from throughout mankind’s history to evoke primordial and instinctual cues in this adventure – from mystical animals like owl, cats, and snakes to torrential downpours and considerate depth given to the changing of the seasons in nature’s power to overwhelming presence of night and fog in scenes to ancient castles on rocky coastline hills for the perfect backdrop to a film about witchcraft and wizardry.

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Cast

A Collection Of Perfect Child Performances: From Radcliffe’s Purity To Watson’s Smart-Aleck Hermoine To Grint’s Goofball Weasley

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The cast of Harry Potter is equally a lifetime collection that battles for top spot with its majestic Hogwarts world-building. Daniel Radicliffe is the perfect film embodiment of Harry Potter and a career role that leaps off the pages of the famous literature to become the face of a generation. Besides the perfection of look, his child performance in the lead role is unconscionably impressive for anyone of that age – finding advanced depth in the character and playing the quiet dignity and underdog charm of HP perfectly from the opening on Privet Drive. The rest of the iconic trio is legendary too – Emma Watson’s effervescent ginger smart-aleck overachieving Hermoine Granger juxtaposed with Rupert Grint’s toadish, charming, empathizable comic relief Ron Weasley for a once-in-a-lifetime cast of characters amongst the best child performances I’ve ever seen in a debut feature. The innocence and young age of the protagonists makes the film the most charming of the series as pure escapist children’s entertainment fun we could project our young selves on, adding a classic Spielbergian-feel it’s no surprise he was the frontrunner to direct but departed during negotiations due to creative differences. The rest of the the performances are fantastic too, from the burly rotund gaiety of an easily secret-spillable Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid to warm grandpa-ish presence of Richard Harris’ Dumbledore to elitist vexation of Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy to the bone-chilling intensity of Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape. Even side characters like loser-kid Neville Longbottom and the kid who always blows up everything are well-acted, as are the grating presences of the fatcat aristocratic Dursley family led by Harry Melig’s spoiled brat, 35-present-whining bully-cousin Dudley that effectively makes you want to punch him in the face – the point of the character well-translated to give it that zip.

The Magic

From Owl Mail Delivery To Monolithic Chess Boards To Dragons To Quidditch, A Collection Of Very Impressive Magic Pieces

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The magic in Sorceror’s Stone is fantastic and brought to life by real magic of the blockbuster kind. Flying motorcycles, snow-white owls delivering letters avalanching by all entrances to a flat in London, cat morphological transformations, fractional train platform entrances, house-sorting headwear, ghost tables, Da Vincian staircases straight out of a cubist or surrealist Dali painting, PE classes of broomstick flights, rousing Quidditch matches, invisibility cloaks, chocolate frogs, dragons, cauldrons, devil’s snare herbology, and monolithic live-chessboards are just a few of the brilliant magical pieces in this tale/adventure – and elevate it as the preeminent magic feature it’s wowing to see on the big-screen. The story is fantastic as well – a spellbound mystery caper with twinges of detective films and children’s parables that establishes important narrative points and themes for the series as we get deeper and deeper down the rabbit-hole of the Hogwarts experience. The CGI & VFX-Technicians deserve massive credit for bringing such ambitious supernatural pieces to life back in a time as nescient in being able to realistically render such fantasy elements in 3D as 2001 here.

Legacy & Book-Accuracy

One Of The Most Successful Franchises Ever Owing Large Part To Its Brilliant Original; Book-Accurate With Smart Cuts & Additions

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The book-accuracy of the first Harry Potter film in the series is phenomenal – it stands as one of the most accurate to its source material incarnations in a first feature to-date. The reason the film feels so novel-realistic/authentic isn’t rocket-science, though – it’s because it is. Director Chris Colombus was hyper-detail oriented and checked in with Rowling so many times she started to ignore the calls out of annoyance, he was so obsessed with making sure every plausible detail they put in was correct and fit the iconic source material, as well as any new changes or added/subtracted dialogue fit being how they had to obviously condense the overstuffed narrative into a still-lengthy 2 1/2-hour film screenplay. The changes are so minute they are positively-inconsequential – the omission of a couple of minor characters like Peeves the Poltergeist, the book’s opening chapter from the perspective of the Durley’s that would’ve established them as a main character and confused the narrative, and smart changes like Norbert’s training destination being changed to a classical dragon-reminiscent Romania setting up his later series arcs, the Quidditch pitch becoming an open field to highlight the aerial action and natural spectacle, and detention in The Dark Forest and the first meeting with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named being less blatant or avoidable, working better with the narrative. Legacy of this first feature is amongst the most golden in preliminary series films – it’s absolutely one of the best opening films and established basically everything the franchise would need from aesthetics to locations to sets to cast to overarching narrative to its villain: Voldemort.

The Mystery & Voldemort

A Shockingly-Effective Magical Caper With Tons Of Religious Parallels & Lasting Intrigue That Provokes Your Need For More

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The B-Arc and mystery of whom is the spy from the interior of Hogwarts helping plan this big return of the series’ big bad: Voldemort is sensational; I’m actually shocked how effective it was in misdirections and playing its cards right for a nice final reveal you wouldn’t guess of the professor playing host to the devil by how it clearly sets up a different antagonist we keep our eyes on the whole film. One of the biggest additions and one that’s particularly cogent to any adult or analyst watching the film is the highlighted religious parallels teased throughout the first feature. A fatherless child with fantastical abilities who is morally-pure, mistreated by jealous or deceptive mortals, and fights against evil with countless allusions to the devil from numerology in the 665th birthday +1 to not speaking his name (as if that’s an effective way of combat: ignoring his presence instead of conquering it) to Devil’s Snare to Voldemort driven to start a dark revolution and being resorted to a parasite living in the shadows literally here juxtaposed in the back of his host’s and our minds as sin exists there and promising its host and others the world and unattainable grandeur temptations like immortality or tricks on the things they love most like Harry’s deceased parents, the series is clearly a metaphor for Christianity and Jesus. There are also references to other religious ideologies – from Greek Mythology in things like the three-headed dog Fluffy referential of Cerberus from Hades and descension into the underworld where the prized treasure of the Sorceror’s Stone having multiple levels and tasks (again, a clear invocation of Greek Myths where protagonists would often have to pass or perish through obstacles and Herculean tasks like these) – a nice undertone and Easter Egg for parents taking their kids to see this new blockbuster experience.

Flaws

CGI That Didn’t Age Too Well In Parts (Altough It Was Only ’01) & An ~Anticlimactic Finale Big Battle Sequence

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Flaws in Sorceror’s Stone include CGI and the finale. CGI in parts has not aged well – time being not too kind on sequences like the troll, Quidditch, and final fight scene. Of course, this was back in 2001 – when blockbuster CGI was still a mad science and nescient compared to the technological wizardry available today ~20 years later, and thus deserves a Hall Pass for its excusable deficiencies in that area. The real flaw and one that does deserve more than a Detention in The Dark Forest is the film’s big bad finale showdown. The scene the epic was building to all this time: finally meeting Voldemort face to back-face is pretty anticlimactic – the battle lasts like three seconds and, despite fine screenwriting in the temptation and dialogue beforehand, is over the second our evil professor touches Harry.. one time. That’s just so lame – and poor screenwriting given even worse of a cheesy excuse of it being because of love that needed to be given more exposition and more of a heart-pounding final battle, spells and all. Also, the film does get a little trigger-happy with John Williams’ central theme using it constantly throughout the film – like almost every sequence: a flaw that is not as much one here because of how great the score is but one that does start to wear and become noticeable over time.

Conclusion

One Of The Best Series Openers Ever

A Pure, Magical Cinematic Adventure That Validated The Premise’s Epic Potential & Built The Beginning Of Blockbuster History

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

A first feature film for the ages, Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone is the cobblestone foundation one of the biggest and best cinematic franchises of All-Time was built upon. A special beginning movie breathing pure magical imagination and adventure, it established nearly everything the film would need for its groundbreaking and billions-earning run – from mythic cinematographical cues to locations to set-design to cast to overarching narrative and its formidable villain: Voldemort. A wizardry cinematic adventure for the ages with magnificence in orchestral score, world-building, visual aesthetics, magic, & once-in-a-lifetime cast of child performances, Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone is a religious-parallel escapist fantasy experience for a generation of children and a special beginning feature amongst the top films to-date of one of the best cinematic franchises.

Official CLC Score: 9.2/10