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:: Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

Having read all four Harry Potter books currently available (it will eventually be a series of seven), and loved the world of wizards and muggles that J. K Rowling created, I anticipated the movie version with a mixture of dread and delight. The pictures of the cast that were the first trickles in a tidal wave of publicity and merchandising were promising, the casting, visually at least, was spot on.

And so is much of the film, the locations, the magical creatures, they all look almost exactly as they are depicted in the book. The adaptation is faithful practically down to the letter, barring a few cuts here and there, all of which were missed, particularly Peeves the poltergeist, but all of which were understandable considering the film’s already lengthy running time.

Much of the fun of the film is seeing all of the images come to life, the ghosts, the moving portraits, the jumping chocolate frogs, and perhaps the film maker’s assumption of the audience’s familiarity with the book made them rush, but I often got the nagging feeling that things were going by too fast for me to really enjoy them. Yet in the latter half, the film felt almost painfully slow, surprising since the adaptation was written Steve Kloves, who also adapted the wonderful Wonder Boys

The plot, for those who have been living in a cave the last few months, concerns a young orphan boy living with his odious aunt and uncle and their piggy son, discovers that he is a wizard and is taken off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he meets Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and together they face adventures and the challenge of defeating the evil Voldemort, the wizard who killed Harry’s parents and left Harry with a lightening shaped scar on his forehead.

The cast were uniformly excellent and I longed to see more of all of them, particularly Alan Rickman as the sinister Severus Snape and the wasted John Cleese as the ghost, Nearly Headless Nick. The direction, by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire) did not have any of his trademark slapstick or sentimentality, however the film somehow managed to miss what it was that made the books more than just a collection of the standard ideas about witches and wizards, and that was Harry Potter himself and his friends. I didn’t have the time to hate the Dursley’s as much as I wanted to, or love Potter and his friends as much as I did in the book; there was too much else going on.

The second Harry Potter film is currently in pre production and no doubt will be accompanied by an even bigger budget, with bigger cast salaries and even more merchandise, and I will be just as excited to see it. I can’t help, however, feeling a little bit sorry for the children who see the movie before they read the book, if they ever bother to at all, for its particular magic lies in the way that it frees your imagination, something the film is too constrained to do.

Screening on general release