Hewing almost maniacally to the pages of J.K. Rowling's beloved book, cast and crew present a Potter his fans will cheer. 

Wild About "Harry"?

Director Chris Columbus and scriptor Steve Kloves stick to Rowling's book with a near-religious fervor. But by doing so, they may have missed an opportunity. While no one criticism — or even a boatload of 'em — could possibly undermine this lucrative Potter phenomenon, I feel compelled to say that I wanted more from this big-screen version: more fun, more dazzling effects, and more warmth from Harry.

Do not get me wrong, the millions of Potter fans will not be disappointed by this larger-than-life retelling of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Everything and everyone they loved on Rowling's pages are brought to life on-screen. And they will sit enthralled by the vividly imagined world of wizards; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; and the nebbishy, bespectacled world of 11-year-old Harry Potter.

The movie opens in modern-day England, on a small rural lane where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin. They are the only family he's ever known, his parents having been killed by the evil wizard Voldemort (although Harry really isn't aware of the circumstances). Now, on the occasion of his birthday, Harry gets a visit from Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who has come to take him to Hogwarts. For you see, Harry must live up to his destiny — to be the best wizard he can be.

Once ensconced at Hogwarts, he meets his soon-to-be new best friends, Hermoine (Emma Watson) and redheaded Ron (Rupert Grint). He also runs afoul of the arrogant Draco (Tom Felton), while trying to learn all he can from his teachers. Among that number are Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, Ian Hart as Professor Quirrell and Alan Rickman as Snape, the professor of potent potables. But Harry soon comes to realize that there's more to attending Hogwarts than learning alchemy. He begins to suspect one of the teachers is in league with a dark force that lurks in the forest.

The three pint-sized leads may be relative unknowns, but what they lack in experience they more than make up for with earnestness and gleeful enthusiasm. Though Radcliffe may be the star, Watson and Grint hold their own — especially Watson, who brings Hermoine to full precocious life, making scholarly ambition and determination qualities worthy of admiration. The adult roles are equally engaging, with each well-known actor doing what he or she does best: Rickman is serpentine and hissy; Smith, terse and slightly off-kilter; and Coltrane is sweetly naive in direct contrast to his hulking, intimidating bulk. Parents will also recognize John Cleese as an almost-headless ghost, John Hurt as a magic-wand salesman, and Julie Walters as Ron's mother.

Competing with the actors for our attention are the movie's special effects, which reportedly cost half of the $126 million budget. At 40 minutes in, when the spires and towering turrets of Hogwarts materialize out of the mist, there is an audible hush as fans set eyes on what they have imagined a hundred times over. But not all the effects are so special, such as the preferred sport of Quidditch. It is something akin to airborne polo played on broomstick. In the novel the game was quite clear and invigorating. On the big screen, it looks messy and confusing, and worse, not exactly fun.

By remaining so faithful to the original source, Columbus and Kloves didn't dare edit out anything, Consequently, the movie runs more than two-and-a-half hours. That's a long time to sit still, even if what you're watching is like your all-time, favorite, totally awesome book. Treating Rowling's prose as if it were scripture also means the movie offers little by way of innovative juice other than the visual richness of the setting.

While young fans will be wild about this "Harry," parents will see through its thinly veiled wizardry. This first in a planned series of "Potters" is more about keeping the Pottermania going than giving fans something truly magical.


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