By Chris Campo
There are few things more globally iconic than the Harry Potter franchise. I hear about Harry Potter often in my everyday life, even when the franchise isn't particularly relevant at that point in time. You would think someone like myself would have seen these films or read the books, right? Wrong. But with the prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due out this November, I figured there's no better time for me to visit Hogwarts for the very first time. Yes, there will be a review for all eight films, but obviously we must begin with the first, Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. (Or the Sorcerer's Stone for us in America).
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone tells the magical tale of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who, after eleven years of living with his neglectful Aunt and Uncle, is invited to Hogwarts after learning that he is a wizard. There, Potter not only quickly makes friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), but learns he has a famous past and is a celebrity among Hogwarts as The Boy Who Lived. Harry and company soon discover dark secrets hidden behind every corner of Hogwarts, and it's up to the three young wizards to put a stop to the lurking evil that's after the Philosophers Stone, all while dealing with bullies, school and other charming obstacles.
So I finally found out what I have been missing all my life and... I loved this film. Oh so very much. It's just so damn charming and much easier to follow than I anticipated. It's a delightful watch and I am mad at myself that I waited until my late teens to watch this film, seven year old me would have loved it. Every character is unique and memorable, every action scene is fun, and Chris Columbus found a real sense of wonder in his direction. Very little of this film doesn't work. I had a grin on my face from scene to scene all the way up until the ending. I am now anticipating the seven sequels very much so, and like most kids I imagine, damn, I really want Hogwarts to be real.
What surprised me the most are the characters and the performers bringing them to life. Harry feels so real, and the discovery of his past and his powers feels very natural. He's just too damn likeable. I was worried, knowing how young the cast is here, but they all nail it. Sure, there's the awkward line here and there, but that is an easily forgivable fault. My favourite character, other than Harry, is easily Hagrid, portrayed by Robbie Coltrane. He's just so loveable, and the goofy father figure is a great contrast to the kids. You just want to give him a big hug. Characters are for sure a highlight of this movie and I can't wait to see them grow and be introduced to new ones down the line.
Another huge plus is the world building and lore. There's so many hints and mentions of what's to come and it just gets me all the more excited. Mentioning certain aspects left me in a state of wonder, wondering how the films will expand upon them. And like the best of franchises, the world here feels lived in. The creatures and animals and traditions all feel real. The only problem that comes from this is that there are quite a few scenes of nothing but exposition. Exposition is fine and all, but when there is so much of it, the running time is stretched and stretched. This film is very long and, for what's essentially a children's film, the run time is a bit of a distraction. The titular Philosophers Stone isn't even mentioned until over halfway through the film.
I do understand that the film was released in 2001, but I still want to mention the special effects. First though, wow, the practical effects/sets in this film are mind blowing. This only helps Hogwarts feel all the more real. But as for the CGI... The computer effects are very hit or miss. Some effects look way ahead of their time, like the snake in the beginning or the giant three headed dog, but other scenes, like the Quidditch match about half way through, look god awful, even for the time. Fully CGI bodies was an idea that was too ambitious, and I think that it caused the film to age like hell, at least for that portion of the film. And that is quite a shame, as the Quidditch scene is very fun otherwise.
Overall, the first Harry Potter film is very special, even after only seeing it for the first time fifteen years after its release. It's full of wonderful characters and a wonderful world. I look forward to the next films, both to continue the story and to see the effects improve. Please stay tuned for our review of the 2002 sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, coming at you real soon.