8 November 2001 | Dickoon
Valiant, successful attempt to bring the magic to life
We live in a world where economics is hard. This forces practical limitations when making a movie. Time and money are sadly finite, cinema owners need to be pleased as well as fans and computer animation ain't perfect. Given these limitations, this film is about as close to human perfection as it is possible to achieve. However, it's extremely clear what an immense challenge it is to turn Philosopher's Stone from book to film.
Two and a half hours is not long to explore a wonderful, magical world. Furthermore, the directors have bowed to the inevitable temptation to show us things that cannot be communicated so effectively in a book. The consequence is the feeling of a slightly breathless sprint in places.
It also means that the movie has to stay true to the spirit of the book rather than to the letter of it. There are omissions and there are changes. The changes that were made capture and maintain the spirit of the story really well; indeed, there are places where the story is more clearly and straightforwardly told in the movie than in the book. Some aspects of the story are fleshed out on screen and the additions are delightful, completely in keeping with the flavour of the world.
The humour of the movie is inevitably more visual than that of the book; no belly laughs, but a lot of smiles. Some punchlines have changed, but the reasons why the jokes are funny remain the same. Not knowing exactly what's coming next is a good thing! It's all kept tasteful, classy and above the belt; there's nothing to cringe about.
The voice acting is almost uniformly brilliant. However, there are occasions where some of the actors are required to convey high emotions and are only given a second or two of face shot, or head-and-shoulders shot, to do so. This isn't as much freedom as they need and they fall a little short. The blame here must fall on the decision to give the actors too much to do too quickly, not on the actors themselves.
Other than these rare jarring instances, the physical acting is frequently excellent and seldom less than completely adequate, judged against the highest of targets set by the book's clear emotion descriptions.
Dan Radcliffe has the look, the mannerisms and the charm of Harry down pat. His strongest expressions are the bemusement that must be inherent at entering a world where science does not rule alone and the bravery that Harry shows in his achievements. Emma Watson possibly slightly overplays Hermione, but does so in a fully endearing fashion. There's one scene which gives her too little chance to truly express panic; otherwise her performance needs no changes.
Rupert Grint has comic timing way beyond his years, hitting Ron's lines perfectly. Tom Felton makes a stylish Draco; Matt Lewis' Neville character suffers from the acceleration, so the finale does come as a slight characterisation shock.
The Phelps brothers' Fred and George are distinctively cheeky rather than proactive pranksters; Chris Rankin imbues Percy with genuine authority. Sean Biggerstaff shines; his Oliver Wood is likeable and an ideal Quidditch team captain.
Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid is the single dominant adult character, with maximum laughs extracted at every step. The movie changes strongly exaggerate one side of Hagrid's nature, though; probably inevitable considering how much plot exposition his character has.
David Bradley has a vicious Argus Filch; John Hurt's Ollivander is an eccentric treat, giving a wonderful introduction to the Wizarding World. The professors are uniformly excellent, though Richard Harris' Dumbledore comes off as disappointingly flat until the end.
The most ambitious point of the movie is the computer generated imagery. The stills are wonderful, but the fastest animation is restricted by the limitations of real-world technology. The book makes extremely stringent demands of the CGI; sometimes their overall effect in the movie is merely good rather than insanely great. Some of the magic spells and effects look awesome; others don't capture the imagination nearly so much.
The world cannot yet completely convincingly animate human beings doing inhuman things, which serves as a clear reminder that you need fictional magic to make the impossible possible. The Quidditch scene is the most demanding of them all; while the sequence is action-packed and good-looking, disappointingly, it's not a total success. Perhaps some of the scenes would have been better with more conventional special effects? (For instance, the lower-tech-looking Sorting Hat scene is one of the most delightful of them all.)
The set looks gorgeous. However, it may not stand up to detailed analysis. It's fairly obvious that things are shot in many disparate locations, rather than one big Hogwarts School near Hogsmeade.
The score is absolutely wonderful. The soundtrack may rely too heavily on The Famous Bit, but it's clear that the balance and mixture of things in the finished movie are exactly right.
The feel of the whole movie is everything fans could have hoped for. The dialogue is intensely measured, the colouring is suitably epic, the selection of what to leave in is really tightly considered. You get chills in your spine at the right places; you feel the triumphs as all-encompassing endorphin highs. It's clear that the production have thought long, hard and lovingly. They are true fans of the story, they are the right people for the job, it all bodes very well for the second film.
So it could never have been the film that the hyper-literalists were hoping for, then, but it is as good as the practicalities of the real world could possibly permit. Don't expect miracles and you'll love it. I look forward to watching it again and again.
8/10 at the very least. A really satisfactory film!