Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris
My Advice: Don't Miss It.
After the death of his wizarding parents at the hands of the terrible He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) as an infant is left with his closest living relatives--the magic-hating Dursleys (delightfully hateable Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw, along with Harry Melling). This was a decision made by Albus Dumbledore (Harris), Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Rubeus Hagrid (Coltrane), all on staff at Hogwarts--the premiere wizardry and witchcraft school. Now that Harry has turned eleven, it's time from him to come back to the world of magic and claim his heritage. But there's more afoot at Hogwarts than just teaching. Hagrid and Dumbledore are trying to protect something--something secret and very powerful--and someone else is trying to steal this particular something. Harry, along with his newfound friends Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) find themselves caught in the middle--and in grave danger.
Before I set about telling you what I thought of this film, let me give you a bit of a lead-in. Everything about this flick had me thinking they were actually going to pull off an excellent adaptation of a book that I consider to be in a class of such pinnacles of children's literature as Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books. The casting seemed to be exemplary (you notice we never bothered to put up a DreamCast on the site), the bits that we had seen of costumes and sets were straight out of our very own heads, and Warner Brothers--for once, it seemed--was going to take the effort to do a franchise up right. There was only one thing that worried us: Chris Columbus. Never known for subtlety or lack of schmaltz (see the recent Bicentennial Man if you wish to disagree), but known for being good with kids--it was a toss-up. A terrifying toss-up. But still, we kept hearing good things.
But now I'm pleased to report: Hot damn, they nailed it. Before this, the most faithful adaptation of a book I had seen in recent years was Fight Club--a far cry from this work of children's lit. But this manages to keep not just the heart of the story, but the characters and the storyline intact--and make it work on the screen. Funny. That's what Hollywood says can't be done with most books--but I digress. The fact that this film works as well as it does is testament to the people on the production--and including Columbus, who has scored major points with this reviewer.
On the acting side of things, the three leads all do remarkably well. The real spotlight is on Grint and Watson, as Radcliffe is kind of stuck with playing the wide-eyed new Harry--I'm sure in the next film we'll get a chance to see him stretch a bit more, once the character is used to being who he is. Grint is the perfect sidekick, spitting out bits of humor wherever needed--and a scene involving a chess game later in the film has some great moments for him. Watson is perfectly the picture of bookish arrogance, and she plays the part to the hilt. There's really no complaints to be had about anyone, all of the kids seem to hold their own very well. Among the adults the standout would have to be Coltrane--his seeming inability to keep a secret and his concerns over a recent acquisition that he's made make him extremely endearing.
As for the creation of Harry's world, it's extremely impressive. The game of quidditch translates a lot better than I thought it would, and is quite the action piece. The extended climax works very well, with the kids having to overcome different obstacles. Little touches like the people in portraits who move around, or the floating candles, or even the chocolate frog--it's immersive and it's pretty damn cool. Contributing to this is John Williams, never known for being a slackass, who turns in one of his more impressive scores in recent years.
This is going to do huge business--and it's worthy. Be warned, though--it's long, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours. But it should enthrall anyone old enough to have read the books on their own, and be worth a couple of visits to the cinema. Nicely done.
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