120 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is a 10-year old British lad who has a zigzag scar on his forehead. He lives with his aunt and uncle and rotund, snotty cousin, who thoroughly despise him and make him live in a cupboard below a staircase. And all looks quite lost until the day Harry receives an invitation to attend the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and he’s carried away by the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane).

Harry quickly learns that his mom and dad were a witch and wizard, respectively, and that they died while protecting him from the superevil Voldemort (also known as He Who Must Not Be Named); but Harry also learns that there’s something about him that protects him from Voldemort. With his trusted new friends Ron and Hermione, Harry must find out what’s in the trap door at Hogwarts that’s guarded by a three-headed dog named Fluffy – and that certain bad guy or guys wants to get a hold of.

As serious as the plot seems, this is a most fanciful movie. It’s quick paced, so as not to let the little kippers fall asleep, and is full of all of the dazzling effects you’d expect from a wizards and witches movie. It has quite a few things going for it (it did make a zillion dollars, so it must have something going for it), including a brisk, crisp script that’s pretty close to the book, excellent performances from top to bottom, and those omnipresent effects that by now are fairly workaday to most of us.

Author J. K. Rowling insisted that all of the cast – or at least those with speaking roles – be British, and as a result we get some of England’s finest: Richard Harris (who’s actually Irish), John Hurt, Maggie Smith, Ian Hunt, John Cleese, Richard Griffith, Julie Walters, Coltrane, and Alan Rickman. It’s a magnificent roster, and each actor appears to be having a great time playing dress-up and spouting some downright hilarious lines.

This is a popcorn movie. Is it a date movie? Um, no. Your date might think you’re an idiot if you sit down to watch this. But it IS a great movie to watch with your kids, and you might even get them to read the books. And hey, anything that gets kids to read something thicker than a pamphlet is usually a good thing.

Plus the special effects merely enhance the show; they aren’t the show itself. The real star is the precocious Radcliffe (who’s been signed to a few more Potter films, by the way) , who essays the young magician perfectly. Too often kids come off as snotty or impossibly cute in movies; Radcliffe is neither, and neither, by extension, is Harry Potter. I’ve seen too many films in which the kids are nothing more than glorified brats, even when they’re the heroes – but not our fair Mr. Potter, who saves the day through his courage, wits, and intelligence. Oh yes, and love.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 8

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