30th June 1997, the day children’s fiction changed. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling was released and began the series of books march toward dominance. After the popularity of the books, it was only a matter of time before a film was made, and in 2001 Warner Brothers entrusted the much-loved source material to director Chris Columbus. It was a commercial smash hit and remains the one of the top ten highest-grossing films of all time.
The plot, as in book, revolves around the eponymous Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovering that he is a wizard and starting his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is joined by his two best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as the trio try to uncover a mystery involving the fabled philosopher’s stone (sorcerer’s stone for our American cousins). It is difficult as a huge fan of the book series to look at the film without considering its source, and many criticisms levied at the film can simply be passed off as reviewers unwillingness to see what a difficult job the film-makers had in creating the rich world of the books. That being said it would be amiss of me to try even try to score this as a film in its own right, because the books have such importance to me. So I can say without a shred of guilt or remorse that for me, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one of the worst examples of book-to-film transfer that it has ever been my misfortune to watch.
Chris Columbus, famous for making children’s classic Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, seems to have never actually read the books, or he wouldn’t have tried to make the film Hook: Part 2. Everything has the colour turned up to eleven and it makes the surroundings seem too American, which hurts the very British material. The first book was always going to be the hardest to make because of the lack of ‘action scenes’ available, which means we are forced to endure an over-long Quidditch match with some truly terrible special effects. It might as well have been an animated film in these portions. Not a good animated film you understand, but nothing has even the vaguest sense of reality. The music is also terribly disappointing. John Williams has created some of the most impressive and memorable film scores of all time, but with the Potter franchise he seemed desperate to make it sound like the ewok celebrations at the end of Return of Jedi throughout. It’s too bombastic and loud to ground the story in the surroundings of a British boarding school. Sometimes less is more.
The acting and casting is hit and miss. Ron, Snape (Alan Rickman), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Ollivander (John Hurt) should all be singled out for praise as they really capture the essences of their characters. It is just such a shame that Harry, Hermione and Dumbledore (Richard Harris) seem to lack the ability to play the characters as described in the book. At least Richard Harris has a little twinkle in his eye, but still seems far too frail and not nearly as engaging as he should be. Watson spends most of the time over-pronouncing ever syllable and Radcliffe is barely passable as a human being. There are large portions of the film that require the main trio to explain exactly what is happening, which is a shame because they lack the skill to engage for such periods and it feels forced and overly expositional. The running length is also an issue and at two hours 42 minutes it seemed to drag, and some clever cutting would’ve allowed more of the backstory to creep in.
All in all I didn’t enjoy a single moment of the film and it felt like a part of me was being torn apart to create a horcrux. The novels, which I so adore have been bastardised to the extent that all that is recognisable is the names. Everyone involved should’ve spent less time worrying about how to make it ‘epic’ and a little more time actually reading the books.