Oh man, this is an interesting case. I'm conflicted. It's PG. I need to make that clear first. I'm even a fan of this being PG. I heard that J.K. Rowling made the movies age appropriate for whatever age Harry is. In Sorcerer's Stone, Harry is 11, so the movie is thus deemed appropriate for 11-year-olds. But Is this really a PG movie compared to other PG movies? I mean, if this was the '80s or '90s, probably. But for 2001? We're already into the live action blockbuster being PG-13. There's some messed up scary parts in this movie. But end of the day, it's PG.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
I have a cantankerous relationship with Harry Potter and all things related to Harry Potter. I love fandoms and, honestly, I tend to like Harry Potter fans. But Harry Potter fans are intense. I'm not saying other fandoms aren't intense, but they don't understand at all why you aren't on board the fandom. I push Doctor Who and Star Trek a lot, but I often expect people to be standoffish about these fandoms. Harry Potter fans get obsessed! My thoughts on Harry Potter is that it is a fun franchise that is riddled with problems. If you ignore the problems, the stories are fine and even good. But I can't ever get on board the obsession.
With all of that being said, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a better movie than I remember. When the final book came out, I binged them all on a bet. Before that time, I was intentionally holding out. I was a snob, not to put too fine a point on it. I now rally against that attitude of avoiding something with pride. I pretty much absorb stuff and then comment on them after the fact. But at the time, I didn't love the first book. I know that a lot of people also didn't care for the first movie. The first movie has a lot to deal with. I can't believe I find myself in a position to be defending the first Harry Potter movie, but I think it does exactly what it needs to. I'm not saying it does so perfectly. Like my overall opinion on Harry Potterdom, it's an overall success, but I don't love everything that's done. Harry Potter (and I'm ashamed that I'm going to be throwing this word around) is about worldbuilding. I've fought against the worldbuilding argument that every Potter fan has presented to me. I think that there are lots of worldbuilders who do it more organically than Rowling, but the film needed to convey a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time. Okay, two-and-a-half hours, but that's still a lot to cover. First and foremost, Potter has a pretty complex mythology. It's actually my favorite part of these stories. I don't care about the school stuff or the fun moments that people love. I care about the overall prophesy and how it plays over the course of these stories. This is the first movie that is coming out before the entire series is completed. I mean, Harry Potter was Game of Thronesing before Game of Thrones was a TV show. It had to guess what was important and what wasn't. I'm sure that they had insight from Rowling, but we also know how these things play out. Secondly, Harry's world needs to be lived in. Chris Columbus made Harry Potter look like Harry Potter. The books are barely illustrated, but Columbus does this amazing job with the look of Potter. Honestly, everything that is sold involving Harry Potter is probably due to this movie. People had to like this movie enough to say that we're going to devote everything related to this movie to the tone and feel of this movie. That's a pretty big ask and a pretty big win.
Also, the movie is pretty watchable. I will say that it is a little bit more disjointed than I would care for. The movie tries to cover a lot. The future books get longer, but the amount of story pretty much stays the same. So the first movie has the unfortunate task of being both an origin story and a story that is fundamentally part of the mythology as well. (I can't believe that I'm arguing Harry Potter this hard.) In superhero stories, the first villain often doesn't get his due credit. It's why the pre-MCU movies kind of burn off their good villains with the worst stories. Honestly, we haven't really gotten a good Norman Osborn story yet because he was in the first movie. Most of the first Spider-Man is devoted to Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. Harry Potter faces off against Voldemort in the first story...kind of. That level of storytelling is super cool. It seems like Voldemort is a far off threat, but he shows up in the first story. (I might just like defending underdogs.) It's also a bit of a trick. We get two battles with Voldemort in the first story. SPOILERS: There's the attack on the unicorn in the woods and the final boss battle. But the first movie establishes Voldemort as a credible threat. He is incorporeal and yet presents himself as a difficult foe. It's so funny to see how Voldemort looks like in this movie. While so much of this movie is planned in relation to what future movies, it's so odd to think what Voldemort should have looked like.
But the movie is a bit disjointed. While I haven't read this book in ages, I can see the clear chapter breaks. Rather than allowing the world to be fuller and expand on the original content, I have the vibe that the movie is almost a slave to the text. I know, hardcore Potterheads will yell at me for this one. But chapters don't mind ending abruptly. There different media, so they almost should have different attitudes when it comes to storytelling. (I understand that the intro showing Dumbledore and McGonagall is not exactly from the book.) But for a film, the movie almost feels segmented. Part of this is the structure of the story. This is Harry's first year at school. These events aren't happening one moment to the next, as we are reminded by the changing of the seasons throughout the film. It's just odd to think that such major events are happening to the kids that they wouldn't follow up with that thread immediately. This is always something that bothered me when reading the novels and it gets worse in the longer ones. To be experiencing such trauma and adventure on a regular basis, to worry about house cups, sporting events, and homework seems silly. These kids compartmentalize their lives way too well. When I'm intrigued with a story, I want there to be a through-line, not constant interruption to play house. People love that stuff and I'm a bit alone in this issue, but it definitely is noticable in the first movie. It seems like there's no momentum in relationships. But for a viewing audience where events only took place a second ago, jumping to Christmas seems a bit disjointing. In the long run, by the time that the kids are all playing Wizard Chess, I find myself questioning how we jumped into the deep end of the pool when we were just discussing secret Christmas presents.
My wife doesn't like the kids in this movie. I don't mind. Very few child actors really knock it out of the park, so I give them a bit of a learning curve. By the end of the series, these kids all really get it. I guess I should be critiquing this movie in isolation, but I suppose that I'm allowed to play favorites and have the advantage of hindsight. I know that I'm pretty crazy on this one, but I'm going to attack the dead. Okay, I'm not attacking, but I don't love Richard Harris as Dumbledore. The thing is that I love Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Harris comes across as a withered and tired old man. That's totally unfair of me to say, but I can't help but think about what richness and life that Gambon brings to the character. Part of me is completely selfish because I have the Doctor Who connection with Kazran Sardack. I started this whole thing talking about fandoms and now I'm using my own fandom to justify my choices. But the casting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is pretty genius. We all love Dame Maggie Smith. My Downton Abbey fandom is also peeking through as well. But the real get, and this is yet another fandom clouding my judgment, is Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. Hagrid is a pretty lovable character and it's so good that Coltraine gets to play this part. I fell in love with the actor in GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough, so to see him get this role is pretty darned exciting. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't seen him in much since Harry Potter. The guy is too good to put under a bushel basket. But most of this movie really works. You could complain that the CG is out of date, but it is 2001. The CG is really CG, but it never actively pulled me out of the movie. Sure, the rest of the series is going to look better, but there are no real crimes with how this movie works. I do think it is a bit scary. My son ducked out before the real scary stuff happened, and I think my daughter was very cool with that. It was fun to watch something a little scary with someone who was really enjoying it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a better movie than you probably remember. It's not this sacred thing that Potterheads hold onto, but it is very cool for the casual fan. It is showing some wear from time, but is holding up better than you'd probably expect. If anything, it did its job convincing me that I could watch the second one sometime soon.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.