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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) - Directed by Chris Columbus

"You're a wizard, Harry."

Chris Columbus, famed children's movie director known for making the movie featuring Macaulay Culkin's finest performance, Home Alone. The guy knows how to produce a family-friendly atmosphere, even though his movies aren't always brilliant in the sense that they can't really hold a candle to the movie-making giants. And I'm not talking the experimental foreign directors here, I'm also including people like Brad Bird, John Lasseter and others who can make more than one incredible movie (No Brad Bird pun intended). However, Chris Columbus has imagination, which made him a great choice taking an overstuffed children's novel like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and bringing it to the big screen.

I probably don't have to cover the basic plot like I usually do, since this is Harry freakin' Potter we're talking about, but I'll follow my old "tradition" anyway (Look at me chatting away like I'm Stephen bloody Fry). The first in this eight movie saga (not counting spin-offs) follows a young boy raised by an abusive extended family. Soon after turning eleven, he is visited by a kind half-giant who tells him that he's not only a wizard by blood, but that he's been accepted into a secret school for wizardry! Jumping at the chance to leave home, he discovers that he's famous! Why? Because as a baby he became the only one ever to survive an attack by a once terrible sorcerer named Voldemort, who was responsible for killing his parents. Now learning wizardry with his dorky but likable best friend, Ron Weasley, and the proud bookworm Hermoine Granger, the three discover that a conspiracy lies in the school, one to resurrect Voldemort with the power of a magic artifact that can even turn any metal into gold: The Sorcerer's Stone.

Maybe it's not as good of a philosopher's stone tale as Fullmetal Alchemist, but it's still very magical and a lot of fun for the whole family. The story is largely focues on developing the magical world the audience is entering for the first time (as opposed to telling a fleshed-out story, which is why I consider the worst of the Radcliffe movies). But the world itself is MARVELOUS! The movie relies on its magical atmosphere as opposed to an abundance of special effects which so many 2000's movies were guilty of doing. And it's not just the special effects, it's the lore. Maybe we have childish names running around like Hogwarts, but what's really important is how they roll off the tongue. So many of the names are fun to say. Severus Snape, Dumbledore, Hagrid, they work so well! And the beauty of it is that they still sound like real names as opposed to just fantasy trollop.

All of the actors felt so in line with the roles they were given. The three children, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermoine, felt like they were born specifically to play these roles. Their charisma as cute little kids in a magical world was a source of incredible charm throughout the movie. And come on, we had ALAN RICKMAN as SNAPE. I have rarely seen a finer role performed in cinema. His strict behavior and absolute aura of darkness were creepy in that respectable way.

Let's not forget the music! I'm listening the the soundtrack album by John Williams as I write this. Even though Williams made a bad habit of using the two themes present in "Hedwig's Theme" more often that necessary, it captures the dark fantasy edge and the family-friendly cuteness in perfect equilibrium, bringing out even more of the atmosphere.

As I said before, my only concern with the movie is that it focuses to heavily on introducing the world and developing it, rather than exploring the plot pertaining to the titular magical artifact. The Philosopher's / Sorcerer's Stone has so much real-life historical and mythological lore behind it that there is so much Rowling and Columbus could have done with it. But no, unfortunately there's practically no mention of it afterwards in the whole series. The story of Harry Potter doesn't become a real STORY until the next movie. Having said that, the atmosphere helped overcome the two-and-a-half-hour runtime. This movie helps prove something: never be afraid of making a kid's movie close to three hours (right, Shyamalan?) They'll watch it.

The first Harry Potter film is a satisfying adaptation book that is full of heart and spirit, and has an incredible cast that's worth the seven sequels it spawned as a film. The series only gets better from here, as I directly oppose the common (and easily confirmed) notion that the next film, The Chamber of Secrets, is the worst of the Daniel Radcliffe films. But just because this is the worst doesn't mean it's bad. The world is worth getting invested in if you like dark fantasy. Just be prepared. Rowling and the directors of the films took into account that the fans of the first book and / or film were growing up as the series was getting older, so this is the most kiddy. Be prepared for a wild ride unlike anything you've seen in cinema. Harry Potter 1 is just training wheels.