In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018), I’m going to review the rest of the Harry Potter series:
- THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002)
- THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
- THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005)
- THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)
- THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (2010)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011)
- FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016)
First disclaimer: Before anyone freaks out, yes, I’ve seen all of the films before. When I was a kid. I haven’t revisited most of these films since they were released in theaters. I’m just taking a trip down memory lane and seeing how they hold up compared to when I first saw them and getting my opinions out there. Second disclaimer: No, I’ve not read the books. Okay, I’ve read the first three. I do not remember them. I am not planning to read these books, so please don’t freak out with sentences like, “Well, it’s better explained in the book!” I do not care. This is purely my opinions regarding the films.
Introducing: Daniel Radcliffe (SWISS ARMY MAN , VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN , and the upcoming PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE ), Rupert Grint (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Emma Watson (THE CIRCLE , and the upcoming LITTLE WOMEN ), Tom Felton (MEGAN LEAVEY  and RISEN ), and Matthew Lewis (ME BEFORE YOU )
Veterans: Richard Harris (THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO  and GLADIATOR ), Maggie Smith (SHERLOCK GNOMES  and THE LADY IN THE VAN ), Alan Rickman (EYE IN THE SKY , LOVE ACTUALLY , and DIE HARD ), Robbie Coltrane (BRAVE  and GOLDENEYE ), and Fiona Shaw (COLETTE )
Director: Chris Columbus (PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF  and HOME ALONE )
Writer: Steve Kloves (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN )
Composer: John Williams (THE POST , STAR WARS: LAST JEDI , BFG , Indiana Jones RAIDERS , TEMPLE , CRUSADE , and CRYSTAL SKULL , JURASSIC PARK  and THE LOST WORLD , CLOSE ENCOUNTERS , and upcoming films STAR WARS EPISODE IX  and Indiana Jones 5 )
Cinematographer: John Seale (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD )
Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce (SHADES FREED  and DARKER , BEN-HUR , and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION )
This is my honest opinion of: HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE
Eleven years ago, the evil wizard known as Voldemort went on a killing spree, killing Lily and James Potter, the parents of then-infant Harry Potter, and attempted to kill Harry but failed. After that, Voldemort disappeared and the great wizard Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris), headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, took Harry and hid him with his cruel Muggle (non-magic folk) Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) Dursley.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), now eleven-years-old, is living a hard life with the Dursleys, but it all gets turned upside down when Hogwarts sends him an invitation to study there. Despite some resistance from the Dursleys, half-giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) brings Harry to the wizarding world where he meets fellow first-year wizards, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). As Harry settles in to his new life, making friends and enemies, the kids learn that Hogwarts is holding the magical Sorcerer’s Stone and dark forces loyal to Voldemort are after it.
Oh man, this movie doesn’t hold up in the slightest. Please tell me they get better.
Let’s start with the positives, as this may take the least amount of time. First off, John Williams is an absolute genius. His score is brilliant and memorable. One of the finest of his career. A downright pop culture icon and cements himself as the greatest composer of all time, in my opinion. 1977, he created the immortal Star Wars theme and twenty-four years later, he’s still got it in him to do something just as immortal. You can listen to “Opening/Privet Drive” and know exactly what the scene is. The same goes for “Entering Diagon Alley!” “The Dark Forest” and “Harry’s Christmas.” If nothing else, the score is what makes this movie more than the characters or story.
The production value is absolutely wonderful. Many of these sets are real and not just green screen. I mean, they look like expensive sets that could be found on a theater stage, but they’re so creative that it doesn’t even matter. Diagon Alley is especially great when you see all of the signs and how the paint is chipped away and letters have faded. Give this movie credit, when it takes you somewhere pretty, you want to go there and the movie takes you on that journey. So I’ll also add great cinematography and bouts of great direction to this list.
Personally, I think one of the best scenes in the entire movie is when Harry is first faced with the Mirror of Erised, and the third time with Dumbledore. The first scene is incredibly nuanced with Harry looking at his parents for the very first time. He’s never seen what they looked like, yet he instinctively knew who they were and it’s incredibly powerful. Few words are spoken. Just that verbal confirmation to actually address the parents who died at Voldemort’s hands. The cynic in me wants to say that it’s cheesy, but I think given Harry’s personal traumas and plethora of questions regarding his parents that he must surly have, then this scene is allowed to play out however it wants. As for the third visit (after going with Ron), we learn that despite Harry’s desires to see his parents more, Dumbledore, in his wisdom and compassion, tells Harry that even though the Mirror is powerful and wonderful, even it has a darker side where people have gone insane seeing what the mirror shows them. A reminder that just as not all wizards and witches are good, not all magical items are good. And Harry doesn’t argue. He absorbs that information and accepts it, eventually letting go and moving on.
Finally, while I love Alan Rickman (RIP, you gift to the world) and Maggie Smith, Richard Harris really steals the show for me. There’s something about his subdued performance, laced in that iconic wisdom and compassion, that doesn’t even really feel like acting. It feels like a man is really trying to help all of these kids grow and be better, guiding them to be the best that the future will bring. While I can’t say that his character in this movie is all that fleshed out, there’s a way that he speaks and walks that feels regal. Every word he speaks, you listen and you heed. It’s a brilliant performance and I love it.
But now I have to get to the controversial part of my review… my problems. There’s way too many, so I’ll try to generalize sections of the story because if I went scene by scene, this review alone would take longer to read than it would to watch the series back to back.
I remember articles popping up in my Facebook news feed titled, “The heartbreaking reason why the Dursleys took in Harry,” likely for those that didn’t read the books (like myself). However, there is no sob story or heroic reasoning to justify the literal abuse that Harry suffered. He lived in a cramped cupboard, lives right underneath dirt that Dudley stomps on him, is forced into a Cinderella-type lifestyle of cooking and cleaning for the Dursleys, and the creme de la creme, physical abuse. Let’s pretend that Dudley’s bullying doesn’t qualify. That’s bullying that the Dursleys allow and likely with sadistic smiles on their faces. That’s just as culpable as the actual abuse itself. But lest we forget, Vernon pulls Harry’s hair after the incident at the zoo. Argue with me, I dare you. If the Dursleys didn’t want Harry, put him up for adoption or drop him off at a church. They didn’t want the extra mouth to feed, the extra responsibility, this would have helped so many headaches. By the way, Dumbledore is a jerk for this because he knew how cruel the Dursleys were. And why did the Dursleys turn Harry’s letters away? It would mean getting rid of him for months. Something they’d clearly want to do, but because it’s related to magic, they wanted to deny its existence altogether.
What was the point of Harry growing up with the Dursleys anyway? I suppose one could argue that Voldemort still had followers who would take their own crack at Harry for Voldemort if it ever got out that he survived. But there’s problems. For one, those followers never thought to verify if either of Harry’s parents had siblings that could take him in? Lily clearly had sister, so I’m wondering why they were never investigated to see if a baby with a lightning shaped scar was in their care. Hell, it might have been safer to take Harry to a whole new continent and leave him in the care of someone random, so even Dumbledore wouldn’t have known where Harry was. But that’s neither here nor there. So if the point of hiding Harry with his aunt and uncle, very Luke Skywalker of this movie by the way, why bring him back into the wizarding world at all? Has Dumbledore been hard at work snuffing the dark followers out and killing them? Exhibit A, everyone recognizes him simply by looking at his face and not even seeing the scar that would give him away. Word would definitely travel fast. Exhibit B, because he grows up in the care of the Dursleys, who are extraordinarily anti-magic, Harry comes into the wizarding world complete blind. As in, eyeballs out, blind-folded, and thrust into a pitch black labyrinth cave, blind. He’s at a severe disadvantage. At least if he’d grown up in the wizarding world, he would have been far better equipped at dealing with dark arts practitioners having been raised by mentors and teachers, which would make Harry far more interesting and awesome. Sure, that would have tainted his child-like innocence and far less relatable for younger audiences, but I think younger audiences related to Luke Skywalker just as well, whose aunt and uncle were killed, had to join a rebel army to take down space Nazis, so I think the story underestimates its audience too much. And if anyone says anything about “that’s what the books were” then the books underestimate their audience as well. Summed up, Dumbledore says, “He’s far better off growing up away from all of that… until he’s ready.” By eleven years old, Harry Potter IS NOT READY!!!
I’m sure later movies will explain this, but for now, I’m going to complain. What happened after Voldemort failed to kill Harry? Did he just… give up because his insta-death spell didn’t work? I mean… he’s a baby. Babies are fragile. Killing one with one’s bare hands is pretty easy. Dark and grizzly, sure, but this is Voldemort. Did he take a page from Jason Mendoza from THE GOOD PLACE and be all like, “We gave it our best shot, guys. Get a good night sleep, come back fresh in the morning… try again,” and never try again? All that truly gets explained is a generic, “What happened to you know who?” when the real questions should have been, “How did he fail? Why did he give up trying?” As of this moment in the series, which is extremely early on, I know, Voldemort is a lazy dumb-face, not a being whose very name instills fear.
Can we admit also that the only reason why the kids are heroes in this story is because the adults are stupid? If the third floor corridor is forbidden, how about… locking those doors to prevent students from “dying a most painful death?” And have a lock that’s more advanced than a first-year unlocking spell. Best way to keep something forbidden is to keep doors locked. Half the time, the kids don’t even inform the adults of a problem, like when Harmione is in the bathroom crying. They just decide to take on a troll because… dumb. Sure, they win in the end, but that’s barely an excuse. And even when the kids inform the adults of an impending move on a powerful magic artifact, the adults are all like, “Nah, brah. We good.” That’s like if a you went to a teacher and told them you saw a kid with a gun in his backpack, the teacher would say, “It’s probably fake.” No, sirens would blare, evacuations would be in order, authorities would be notified, MEASURES WOULD BE TAKEN!!!
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to read on>>> [Even the protection surrounding the Stone is crap. A giant three-headed dog? Scary, sure… just play some music. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Devil’s Snare, remember that weakness?]
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [Seriously? SERIOUSLY??? A game of chess, a game of Quidditch with a key that’s technically easier to catch than the Golden Snitch because of its broken wing?? THAT STONE WAS NOT LOCKED IN A SAFE PLACE WHERE FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS CAN EASILY GET IT!!! For that matter, why was the Sorcerer’s Stone in Hogwarts anyway? Why is there a dungeon in a school? Why are there dangerous creatures locked in the dungeon? If the Mirror of Erised was being moved to a new home, why was it stored with the Stone? I feel like some decisions were made just for the sake of being made and, once again, the adults in this universe being the primary problem as to why it takes a ragtag group of prepubescent kids to save the lives of everyone.] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [Also, for a character’s whose name is pronoun’d in the title, Nicolas Flamel never appears in the movies (until FANTASTIC BEASTS 2, anyway), and nearly everything that’s happening in this school centers around that stone, which is also tied to his life force. So… yeah, a dude is now forced to accept his mortality and basically die, and he never makes a live-action appearance in this or any other film… until FANTASTIC BEASTS 2, anyway. Way to shaft a character, y’all.] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Overall, it saddens me that I don’t like this movie now in the same way that I used to. I give it credit, it has a beautiful world that tickles the imagination and makes you want to be a part of it. There’s some great performances from some of the veteran actors, and even the younger actors have their impressive and fun moments. And I won’t lie that there’s some truly terrific moments that save this movie. But as a whole, I see the many problems that plague this movie. So many character choices make no sense and the challenges everyone faces are their own faults. Believe me, I haven’t even begun to tackle the many problems of this movie. So if you’re an adult and you’re looking for problems in this movie, you’re going to find them. With all that said, this is a kids movie. Kids can watch this and if they enjoy themselves, it’s easy to see why. I would be okay with showing this movie to my own kids one day. But as a movie that I would casually watch again by myself, hell no.
My honest rating for HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE: a weak 3/5