Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Rating:

Harry Potter joins Dorothy, George Bailey and Luke Skywalker in the pantheon of cinema icons with today’s release of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. Even children who have not read the story will be quickly enthralled by Chris Columbus’ faithful adaptation of J.K.Rowling’s best-selling novel.

Is the movie outstanding? No.

Do the actors turn in extraordinary performances worthy of Academy Awards? Nope, although all are certainly serviceable and several seem destined to be popular favorites.

What makes this a special movie  and despite the hype, the movie is special  is the translation of a good versus evil morality play mixing equal parts of Horatio Alger, Oliver Twist and good old Luke Skywalker. Teens, adults and small children connect with the film on different levels, but all seem to leave satisfied.

Ghoul School

Hogwarts, the school that trains young wizards, is the setting for the film’s most intense scenes. Freed by magic from having to explain the science and logic of special events, Columbus and his team assemble lovely special effects that appear real enough to convince theater patrons that people ride broomsticks, trolls can smash porcelain bathroom fixtures to smithereens and a three headed dog is simply an animal that hasn’t yet been placed in most zoos.

The true intensity, however, is in Rowling’s coming-of-age story. Familiar elements cast adults back into their childhood and enrapture youngsters for the first time. Two members of our opening day group treated the entire excursion with a blase air, but left touched by the big film and its themes of loyalty, family and courage. Indeed, the Hogwarts curriculum could swap calculus for potions and still achieve its core goal of providing a solid education. In a world where people, especially children, are subjected to another global conflict, images of airplanes smashing buildings and anxiety from adults around them regarding terrorist threats, the escapism merely serves as the catalyst for this movie’s true power.

And The Oscar Goes To?

No one. Columbus won’t win for directing, although his audience of young wizard wannabes with encyclopedic memory would have been unforgiving had he not capture Rowling’s story. The British author’s story most likely won’t win either, and none of the actors turn in a truly Academy Award level performance. Even the special effects, which were truly wonderful, could be edged out by The Fellowship of the Ring and other films. Oscar’s shortfall is that there isn’t a casting award because this film was expertly cast. I can’t recall a time when I’ve left a theater feeling that every character had the perfect actor playing each significant role.

From the heroic pre-teen trio who lead the action to stalwarts such as Richard Harris, Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, each cast member nails their role. Expect Robbie Coltrane and Zoe Wanamaker, daughter of director Sam Wanamaker, to use their turns as Haggrid and Madame Hooch to break out of minor character roles and grow their careers. Each gives a lovely performance. True star power also radiates from little Emma Watson, still not twelve years old, who will be reminding movie viewers of Julia Roberts in another decade. By that time, the half-pint will have the experience Roberts now has and uses to bully roles such as Erin Brockovich into submission.

The Bottom Line, Popcorn Kernels and All

No, you need not wait on line for long periods of time unless this is on your must see list. Instead, let the furor die down after Thanksgiving, let the kids all get their first glimpse of the story they’ve been waiting to see for a long time and then go. You won’t find Harry in a bargain theater anytime soon. The film, opening on six thousand screens, will be first run for quite a while, and I fully expect it to break box office records. But once the fan base is satisfied with its first viewing, and this is a film that will inspire multiple viewings, you should be able to see yours.

Those with children, even teens, should prepare now, though, buy their tickets to a more unorthodox time (9:15 a.m., anyone?) and get the kiddos in to see Harry soon. There won’t be many other topics of conversation at school on Monday, regardless of grade level. Come to think of it, there may be not be many other conversations around water coolers Monday  not because of the kids or the hype, but because this is one of those times like the ending of a favorite television show or the retirement of a beloved athlete in which all pop culture unites.

And just in time for the holiday merchandising season. You wouldn’t want to be left out, would you?

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