Senior HTF Member
- Jan 8, 1999
- Real Name
My following review contains minor spoilers talked about openly, I'm sorry I can't review it without doing so and I don't want to litter my post with ugly black tag after ugly black tag. That said, bigger spoiler material WILL be hidden via spoiler tags.
Ok, so here we go then, after a seemingly endless wait, last night I popped into London with the family for a screening of Harry Potter at the Odeon Leicester Square. The movie premiered there last Sunday, sadly gone was the giant Hogwarts banner that graced the front of the building last weekend, but remaining was the electric atmosphere of them Potter fans, young and old, waiting outside in the cold for the doors to open.
It was a 9:45pm showing, there were probably no more than 100 children. I was interested to see the ratio of young girls to boys there, it sort of re-confirmed my feelings that with the young audience the adventures of Potter are perhaps that little bit more popular with the chaps where as with the adult fans it seems the opposite.
I'll come right out with it and say that, if you've read the book, you're likely to find the beginning of the movie extremely lacking in its attempt to set the scene. Whilst the scene where Dumbledore and McGonagall await Hagrid's arrival with baby Harry on Privet Drive remains just as delightful as it reads in the novel, what follows is unfortunately subject of really awkward pacing and editing.
Unlike the book, there is little set up as to who the Dursleys are. From baby Harry on the doorstep we go straight to Harry in the cupboard under the stairs, no set up whatsoever of his relationship (or lack of rather) with the family and why they detest him so much. This is the first time the movie makes the SERIOUS assumption that all who are watching have read the book. The action moves quickly (VERY quickly) to the Zoo scene and soon enough we find ourselves in the cabin where Hagrid returns for Harry at which point anyone new to the world of Potter WILL finally get the Dursleys relation to the boy.
I know what you may be thinking, it sounds like I don't like the start at all. I do! Let me tell you that despite these pacing issues in seeing the first couple of chapters hacked away so much, the start of the movie still set up a feeling which I would get many times later on in the movie, the immense feeling of joy in seeing sections of the book come to life (having pictured them in my mind so many times). When the letters flood the Durseleys house I got goose pimples! John Williams' score soars as envelopes flood in through the letterbox in the door. I could not help but smile...
The bulk of Philosopher's stone is strong. As the action moves to the school the editing takes us from lesson to lesson quickly. A little too quickly? Actually no, the pacing here exploring their numerous lessons (charms, potions, flying and so forth) is well executed. Indeed, where the movie lets itself down is that, and I have to quote Time Magazine here, for the most part the movie plays out like a "best of" the novel. To an extent, this is no bad thing, but basically the movie serves to be a string of the key moments from the novel lacking in the good character and story development that came in between such sequences in the book. Come the film's end you really can feel the pressure Chris Columbus was under to cut this movie down, you can sense it in many scenes.
The children are delightful, Ruper Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson especially (Hermione). Radliffe performs well as Harry, despite his delivery of dialogue being somewhat wooden now and again. This can be said for the trio as a whole from time to time, but more so in Radcliffe's case. As the movies grow, so will he and I see great things coming from his performances in future Potter adventures.
The key adult cast, whilst getting little screen time, obviously deliver as you'd expect the likes of Maggie Smith, Richard Harris and Alan Rickman to. Robbie Coltrane is a magnificent Hagrid, absolutely perfect and subject to some dazzling visual trickery in making him look so huge.
Going back to the lack of character development the movie carries from time to time, this hurts the characters in many cases, and I will use Snape as the prime example. Snape in the novels detests Harry, he has a real dislike for the boy which is really never touched upon in the movie and this leads to, what I feel, to be a truly upsetting deletion of dialogue at the end:
Spoiler:In the novel when Dumbledore visits Harry in his hospital bed at the end, Harry asks why Snape dislikes him so much. In the chapter before even, Quirrel alludes to the fact Snape and Harry's father were at school together (this reference is gone in the film) which leades Dumbledore to tell Harry about how his father saved Snape's life, and how resentful Snape was of this.
The absence of this background to Snape in the movie does some damage and I'll admit right out I am upset with this omission. Next to this, perhaps the only other major upset in relation to character progression is that in the movie, Harry never even names Hedwig or brews the strong bond the two have in the books.
At the end, there's just not enough time. This movie COULD have been ten minutes longer fixing the main faults with Harry's place in the Dursley household and the extra length would not have done any damage whatsoever. Time magazine said the movie lacked the magic, I don't agree. It has the magic, just lacks the mystery of the novel.
Spoiler:The revelation the hidden antagonist is Quirrel is, in the movie, not even a real revelation. From time to time the camera is left to linger on Quirrel (an excellent performance from Ian Hart I should add) early in the movie giving the assumption there is more to the man than meets the eye, and because the movie gives so little screentime to Snape who's position in the first book was to essentially serve as a red herring to the reader making them think he is the villain, you're kind of left a little underwhelmed at the climax of the film. Harry runs down the steps, and oh, there's Quirrel, no build up at all in seeing who's really behind it all which was a great shame.
Some careful cutaways to a figure in the shadows before bringing Quirrel into the light would have worked a treat, but again the movie assumes you've read the book and know this is coming...
For what it's worth, Voldermort's appearance in the back of Quirrels head, and Quirrels subsequent demise is well executed and just as scary as I always pictured it (Quirrel's actual death differs somewhat in the movie with a terrifying effect reminding me of a key sequence from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
I'll tell you now, for a 2hr and 32 minute movie there was not a single peep out of a child in that auditorium last night, and this screening didn't finish until around 11:45pm. The adults were more restless. Kids are going to adore every frame of it and be demanding more.
A roar of applause came at the film's start, and once again at the finish. Deserved? Yes, again I would think so, and yes I feel that whilst it will likely seem flawed to anyone regardless of whether they've read the book or not, the success the movie is about to have is deserved.
Columbus has done a good job bringing the main aspects of the book to life. I've mentioned this is the biggest thrill in seeing the movie for me, and it is by far. The Quidditch match is violent and fast passed, if a little marred by one CGI person too many... This effect is used a fair bit in the film, and the blend from a live actor suddenly into a CG actor is often flawed visually. You'll notice it as the broom takes Neville for a ride, when Harry battles a certain Troll and in the aforementioned Quidditch match.
On the whole it's a visually pleasing movie. Watching the credits will reveal a whole slew of a effects teams who worked on the film from Sony, to ILM, right through to Cinesite (and beyond), this unfortunately leads to some inconsistency in the special effects, but for the most part the slightly unnatural look of some of the CG and blue/green screen effects works in the movies favor.
In writing, Steven Kloves has done a faithful adaptation. There is no reason to doubt his written draft was even more faithful to the novel then the final cut is, but again, despite the scenes the movie had to drop due to time, Columbus still manages to deliver the charm and magic of the book and I applaud him for it, but may feel the need to prod him with a rather sharp stick for not pushing Warner to let him bring it in at 2hrs 40, as some ten more minutes could have made a real difference in helping forward character relationships and backgrounds for the benefit of those new to Potter if anything. I can't help but feel those who have not read the book may simply come out a little confused because the film drops so much of the book's (well executed) exposition at the end describing why things happened the way they did and so on.
I'll applause Columbus and Kloves again for not straying from the darker aspects of the book. You know Who's appearance is spot on and down right creepy, and they've gone as far as to add their own dark touches:
Spoiler:...in one flashback sequence we see the hooded figure of Voldemort outside on the street by the Potters home. This in turn moves into a terrifying montage showing Lily Potter running with Harry in her arms before being murdered then and there on screen before us, a shot which then sees the evil figure facing baby Harry before giving him that scar.
Should they ever go to do all 7 films, I'd want Columbus and Kloves to remain in their position. They've set up a look and feel that deserves to remain consistent throughout the sequels. All I hope is that one thing, the box office takings for Philosopher's Stone at the length it is will open Warner's eyes in seeing that they could alow the sequels to be just as long, if not longer and that Warner themselves actually KNOW what they've got here. Right now, in my eyes, Warner have bought a franchise, not a story. They need to embrace it for what it is before embracing it for what it's worth...
Final score then? It'd be three if it were not for the the fact that even with its flaws I found myself with this giant grin stretching ear to ear on my face for the whole thing regardless. In that regard...
[Edited last by Dan Brecher on November 11, 2001 at 01:04 PM]