Yer’ A Wizard, Harry
Way back in 1997, I remember being given Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for Christmas. After reading Harry’s misadventures, the only grumble I had was with J.K. Rowling’s tendency to over-elaborate with lists and places. Still, the book itself makes for the perfect framework for a film series to follow and even then I wondered if they’d actually do it. Lo and behold, four years after its initial release we have the start of what would go on to become one of the most successful film franchises ever.
To be honest, the first film doesn’t do an awful lot wrong and aside from some of the over-acting and charmingly hilarious one-liners, the film itself is the perfect family feature and does well to introduce key Harry Potter concepts whilst keeping the tone and feel of the books intact. The story, like many other fantasies, starts from humble beginnings. Young orphan Harry Potter is left with the despicable Dursleys, his only blood relatives, with nothing but a mysterious scar across his forehead and a letter addressed to his Aunt and Uncle.
Fast forward 10 years and 11 year old Harry is living in the cupboard under his stairs and lives an uneventful life until one letter changes his life forever. Enlisted to study at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, what follow is a wondrous, imaginative journey that sees Harry try to navigate and survive the first year of life in a Wizarding School. Along the way he meets a whole host of colourful characters, including best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Together, they stumble upon a plot involving the fabled philosopher’s stone and the mysterious Lord Voldemort.
While the story itself doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the framework followed by other fantasies, what’s always stood the test of time here are the characters. Harry Potter is simply an average boy and it’s easy to empathise with his journey as he stumbles between plot points. The rest of the characters are played with a straight-forward, stereotypical sweep but have enough charisma about them to prevent the film from ever being held back by it.
The cast deserve a lot of praise here for bringing the series to life and with the exception of Hermione (who in the books has goofy teeth and frazzled hair) most of the characters look exactly as imagined by their descriptions. The cast have such a wonderful chemistry on-screen too and Harry’s misadventures, whilst primarily geared toward kids and families, have enough mystery and drama to make for an enjoyable watch no matter how old or young you are.
The imaginative world J.K. Rowling envisioned in the books is brought to life here in the best possible way too. Whether it be the towering exterior of Hogwarts Castle or the quaint, bustling streets of Diagon Alley, every part of the film oozes imaginative charm, creating a unique sense of wonder through every part of the film.
All of this great work would be for nothing if it wasn’t for John Williams’ musical score. If there’s one element of Harry Potter that stands the test of time more than anything else, it’s this. From the mischievous string segments and minor key, darker tracks right the way through to the fantastical epic main theme, Harry Potter’s soundtrack is up there with some of the best ever created for the big screen.
While not the best in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a wonderful family feature nonetheless, bringing the book to life in the best possible way. With a perfect casting and a story that stays true to the book, Harry Potter lays some very solid foundations for the films to follow.