Let the Magic Begin

That was the tagline for the first film in the series based on the books by J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I can hardly believe that it’s been almost thirteen years since it was released in theaters on November 16th, 2001. I was six years old, and I had never heard of Harry Potter until, around the time the first film was released, the corresponding LEGO sets came out. I still remember scrutinizing every detail of the sets in the catalogs and magazines, staring in wonder and imagining what the actual story of Harry Potter was like.

I wouldn’t find out until I was almost fourteen, but that’s another story. For now, I just want to elaborate a bit on the first film and why, even after numerous viewings, I still love it.

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Yesterday, I saw a special screening of the film at a small movie theater with some friends, and thus got to experience it for the first time on the big screen. At times, I could imagine that it was 2001 and I was seeing the film, along with the rest of the world, for the very first time. I thought of what sort of looks people had on their faces during certain scenes: Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts, the Quidditch match, the Mirror of Erised, et cetera. Surely, for the most part anyway, they were looks of awe and wonder, as I myself was struck with awe and wonder when I first saw the film. (I saw the first film before I started to read the books, but did not see any of the other films until after I had read the respective book.)

There are many reasons I enjoy this movie so much, but I’m crunched for time at the moment, and I don’t want to make you read a novel of a post, so I’ll limit myself to a few things. The first is that, watching the movie, the love that director Chris Columbus poured into it is almost tangible. It’s easy to sense his passion for the story, not just because of how faithful he was to the plot, but also to how he presented Harry Potter’s world, and the characters especially.

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Speaking of characters, that’s another reason this film never gets old for me. Not only are the adult characters played expertly (Richard Harris as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as McGonagall, and Alan Rickman as Snape, just to name a few), but the child characters — especially The Trio — are overall played with wonderful charm. Sure, sometimes the kids’ acting is a bit awkward, but for the most part, Columbus got some great stuff out of the kids, not just as individual characters but also in how they interacted with each other. I’m still especially impressed with Rupert Grint (Ron) during the chess sequence, and many humorous moments throughout the film; Emma Watson (Hermione) with pulling off both her bossy side and her real strengths hidden beneath; and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) during the first Mirror of Erised scene.

Finally, one more top reason I love this movie is that it truly captures the heart and soul of Harry Potter, perhaps better than any of the other films did. While the later films often focused too much on the darker aspect of the story, the first film had a wonderful balance of humor and danger, of wit and wisdom. There’s variety here. We have humor, and lots of it. We have action, including what I think is still the best Quidditch sequence in all of the films. We have darkness and danger in the Forbidden Forest and the encounter with Voldemort. And we also have heartfelt poignancy, most prominently in (once again) Harry’s first encounter with the Mirror of Erised, and also Hagrid’s gift to Harry at the end of the film. While many of the other films focused too much on one particular aspect — darkness, romance, spectacle, et cetera — this one is a great mix.

Is this film perfect? Absolutely not. Again, there’s some awkward acting from the kids sometimes. It takes a while for it to really take off. Some of the visual effects don’t hold up very well nowadays. The editing is a bit rough around the edges. Columbus could have done better with his overall filmmaking technique. But as with many other things, these problems are outweighed by the things this film does right. I could go on forever about them, but I think it’s time to wrap this post up.

So, in conclusion: thank you, Chris Columbus, for creating a funny, exciting, touching, wondrous, and truly magical film. I will be watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for years to come.

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