HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE launched the audience-bespelled movie series—one of the most insanely lucrative of all time—with this cast-charmed opener back in 2001. As if by magic, the three kids picked for the central heroes & heroine were not only smart choices, they were the right ones, as Daniel Radcliffe, 11, Rupert Grint, 12, and Emma Watson, 10, not only looked and felt the way legions of Rowling readers imagined, they literally grew into & up with the following seven installments over a decade.
J. K. Rowling’s boundless imagination and capacious heart invented new mass-folklore starting in 1990 with her books, charming adults nearly as much as children. The initial film go had a lot riding on it, expectations as high as those for its epic fantasy rival the same year, the first installment of the venerated Middle Earth sagas. Scripted by Steve Kloves, directed by Chris Columbus, with a crew of 800 working in various capacities, 100 days of shooting ran a cost up to $126,000,000, a sum gulped down by returns of $976,500,000, #1 for the year. Critical approval was strong in general, with some expected dissent from grouches.
The books and films are so well known by a goodly share of the planet that wasting time outlining the complex plot is needless. The inauguration runs a hefty 152 minutes, takes its time setting things up, and runs a bit ragged during parts of Act 3 (the chess game sequence looks promising, but turns into a long, noisy bash), and John Williams came up with a catchy main theme for his score, then overplays it.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
Otherwise, mostly quite entertaining, an art directors dream zone, oodles of neat effects, fun costumes and a top-notch cast. Backing the three leads: Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Fiona Shaw, David Bradley, Zoë Wanamaker, Harry Melling, John Cleese, Matthew Lewis. Tom Felton is ‘Draco Malfoy’.
The Art Direction, Costume Design and Music Score were Oscar-nominated. In Britain and most other countries the title was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as Rowling’s book had it. They must have figured Americans wouldn’t know what a philosopher was. “A pity they let the old punishments die. Was a time detention would find you hanging by your thumbs in the dungeons. God, I miss the screaming.”