Warner Bros. | 2001 | 159 mins. | Rated PG
From the moment J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel became one of the biggest sensations the literary world had ever seen, there was no doubt the book would be turned into a film. At the time, many fans feared that that the British toned story would be Americanized in an effort to capture a larger theatrical audience. To that end, Rowling refused to sign away the rights to The Sorcerer’s Stone, and the future novels in the Harry Potter series until she was given assurances that Harry would be played by a young British actor.
Though several prominent directors were attached to the project at one time or another—Steven Spielberg (he was out because he wanted to cast Haley Joel Osment as the young wizard), Rob Reiner, Sam Mendes, Robert Zemeckis and others—Chris Columbus (Home Alone), was ultimately given the job, in part because of his experience working with children.
Orphaned as a baby after his parents were killed by an evil menace named Lord Voldemort, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) was left in the care of his aunt and uncle (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw), an abusive pair, who treasure their own child (Harry Melling) above all else. Potter’s life is filled with misery and neglect until, on his eleventh birthday, a half-giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) arrives to inform him of his true origins, his birthright, and his acceptance to Hogwarts. Ecstatic to get away from his aunt and uncle, and curious about the innate talent as a sorcerer he’s rumored to possess, Harry embraces his future and leaves with Hagrid to prepare for his first year of wizard schooling.
Our first look at Hogwarts sets the magical tone of the story. Rising on ominous Gothic battlements from a moonlit lake, the school looks like something from another world; with great curves and strange angles. The first time I saw it, I remember thinking it seemed like a huge gingerbread house gone awry. At Hogwarts, Harry quickly makes two friends: Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) who’s cheerful personality actually manages to get Harry to loosen up a bit, and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), an eager kid with untamed talent. Unfortunately for Harry he also makes an enemy in the person of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who will do whatever it takes to make sure his house places first at the end of the year. Along the way, Harry questions the motives of his Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and seeks the guidance of the school’s headmaster, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). As Harry learns more about Voldemort and the death of his parents, he comes to understand his first quest: stopping the evil Voldemort and a certain Sorcerer’s Stone.
As an interesting side note, Rowling titled her novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but the publishers weren’t sure if Americans would understand the meaning of a “Philosopher’s Stone” (an imaginary object believed capable of transforming base metals into gold and, in some legends as here, of effecting a person’s regeneration). Apparently, they didn’t think we have access to dictionaries, either?
Anyway, the screenplay by Steven Kloves (Wonder Boys) is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel; including the characters and the major scenes and developments. Big fans of the novel will notice that the ending varies greatly from the book. While this didn’t bother me, I imagine it has been a sore spot for some of Harry Potter’s biggest fans through the years. Having seen countless films based on books, it is almost impossible to translate everything in a book on to the screen. However, Chris Columbus and Steven Kloves did a remarkable job here.
In terms of the casting, they all look like you might have imagined from the book. Their acting is another matter. While Daniel Radcliffe has the perfect look for Harry, in this first film he doesn’t have much of a screen presence. At times his dialogue sounds stilted and he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable in the role. That being said, in subsequent Potter films he seemed to gain more confidence and become synonymous with the role.
Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry’s friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are innocent, precocious, and mischievous at the same time. Richard Harris plays the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, but you’d hardly guess it under the heavy beard and makeup. Unfortunately, he really doesn’t get much to work with. Maggie Smith, the Deputy Headmistress, Professor Minerva McGonagall, who has a better-written role and who has more of a chance to develop a serious character. Robbie Coltrane as the giant gamekeeper, Hagrid, is a major figure in the story. John Cleese has a brief part as Sir Nicholas, “Nearly Headless Nick,” a comical ghost who inhabits Hogwarts and shows up at the most-inopportune times.
Filling out the major roles are Alan Rickman as the ominous Professor Severus Snape; Ian Hart as the inconspicuous Professor Quirrell; John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander; and Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Hooch.
Now that nearly nine years have passed, and several Potter movies have been released since this one, watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone feels like a return to a much more innocent time. So much has happened and the young actor’s seen here are now young adults. While Sorcerer’s Stone may not be the most original or innovative film in the Harry Potter series, I recommend the Ultimate Edition to fans, especially because of the special features, which I will discuss shortly.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone comes to DVD in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The image is fairly sharp, with objects appearing well defined and crisp. Softness does creep into the picture on occasion, but it’s never a distraction. Digital anomalies, such as haloing or edge enhancement are non-existent. The movie does have a slight level of grain, but this only serves to give it a more film- like appearance. Colors are well defined. The various hues throughout the film are balanced and vibrant. Black levels are deep and rich, while shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy but not overly so.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The soundfield is active and involving throughout the movie. It uses all five channels effectively, creating a fairly immersive environment. Music displayed solid stereo imaging, while effects came from all around the spectrum. Environmental ambiance sounds realistic, and the film’s action sequences came across as vivid. Elements panned neatly from side to side and front to back. The surrounds kicked in often, to add some extra punch. Dialogue consistently sounded natural and warm. The score sounds vibrant, with clear highs and rich low-end response. Effects came across as distinct and accurate, and they also displayed solid dynamic range. Bass response appeared nicely deep and taut, and the track as a whole provided a pleasant viewing experience.
Now, the special features:
The packaging emulates the hardcover novel; a slipcover slides off to reveal a nice hardbound DVD case. It opens like a book and contains pictures in the inside cover. Tucked inside is a 48-page hardcover book and envelope containing two heavy character cards, measuring about 6″-7″ each. The discs themselves contain the following material:
• DISC 1: Theatrical Version
• DISC 2: Extended Version with 7 Minutes of Footage Not Shown in Theatres.
• DISC 3: duplicates the extras on the previous release.
o Capturing the Stone: A Conversation with the Filmmakers (16 minutes): Columbus, screenwriter Steve Klove, and other crew members discuss their adaptation, the production, and the decisions they made along the way.
o Diagon Alley: An interactive Hogwarts tour of sorts that requires users to solve a lengthy series of puzzles.
o Classrooms: Mix a potion and cast a spell, but only after visiting other features elsewhere on the disc.
o Library : Scour several books in the library to uncover concept art and other images from the film’s production.
o Sorting Hat: A brief overview of Hogwarts’ houses, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.
o Hogwarts Grounds: Interactive activities (like Catch-a-Snitch and Pick-a-Jelly-Bean) that use film clips and artwork to explore the game of Quidditch, Hagrid’s Hut, etc.
o Interactive Tour: Walk through Hogwarts while being reminded of the events that occurred in each room. Arrow keys appear at certain points, giving users the ability to choose their path.
• DISC 4
o Introduction by Daniel Radcliffe (2 minutes): Franchise star Daniel Radcliffe delivers a spirited introduction to The Sorcerer’s Stone in which he promises hardcore Potter fans they’ll learn a few new things about the Potter films and their creation.
o Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 1: The Magic Begins (63 minutes): The opening of Warner’s eight-part documentary is a candid, extensive glimpse into the first film, its young actors’ early days on set, the development of visuals and themes that would stretch through the entire series, and more. Combining revealing behind-the-scenes footage, new and archive interviews will make this overview of the production appeal to enthusiasts and casual fans alike.
o A Glimpse Into the World of Harry Potter (SD, 9 minutes): A international EPK from 2001 that’s essentially an extended trailer.
o Additional Footage (10 minutes): Seven scenes include “Dudley’s New School Uniform,” “Petunia Cracks Eggs with Letters Inside,” “Tube Ride,” “Kids Leave Girls’ Bathroom,” “Harry Sits by Fire in Great Hall,” “Harry Finds Nicholas Flamel Card,” and a “Snape Classroom” extended scene. (These are included in the extended cut of the film.)
o Trailers and TV Spots (15 minutes): A teaser, two theatrical trailers, and fifteen television commercials.
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