On the fifteenth of July, 2011, the highest grossing film franchise of all time will finally come to an end. Spanning ten years, eight movies, four directors and a worldwide box-office gross of over six billion dollars – the Harry Potter film franchise will open at the close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, as Harry prepares to face off against He Who Must Not Be Named for the very last time.
Billed as The Motion Picture Event of a Generation, we at HeyUGuys wouldn’t want anybody to miss out. As such, here’s our recap of first film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
So, without further ado, previously on Harry Potter…
You’re a wizard, Harry.
Back in 2001 – or 1991 according to the books – Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was just a normal boy, albeit one who weird things happened to. Having unwittingly unleashed a Burmese Python on the visitors to London Zoo during his cousin Dudley’s (Harry Melling) eleventh birthday, and even going so far as to converse with it, Harry is soon the recipient of a never-ending barrage of letters, each promptly intercepted by his exasperated Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). Tracked down to an isolated island sanctuary on his own eleventh birthday, Harry is liberated from his cupboard under the stairs and invited to enroll at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by part-giant gamekeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine).
Arriving at Hogwarts with pet owl Hedwig, Harry is soon sorted into Gryffindor house where he is introduced to Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and budding arch nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Having witnessed Hagrid remove a strange package from Gringotts, the wizarding bank, at the same time as he was withdrawing funds from his parents’ vault, Harry begins to uncover a sinister plot to steal the Philosophers stone from its new hiding place in the school grounds.
Suspecting potions professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) to be behind it, Harry is soon confronted with the man responsible for his parents’ death, and the mysterious scar which occupies his own forehead, Lord Voldermort. Maintaining his role as The Boy Who Lived, besting He Who Must Not Be Named for the second time in his short life, Harry discovers from venerable headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) that it was his mothers sacrifice which saved him from both of Voldermort’s attacks.
Chris Columbus’ first film in the franchise is often derided for its lack of creative license with the source material. With Steve Kloves’ faithful script and Columbus’ often pedestrian direction, Philosophers Stone goes to great lengths to pack as much of J. K. Rowling’s original book into the movie as possible - often at the expense of character development and narrative momentum. Indeed, with very few scenes sacrificed to rein in the running time the first act in particular boarders on montage as the prologue is awkwardly squeezed in and Harry unceremoniously rushed to Hogwarts.
If Philosopher’s Stone isn’t as adventurous as later films in the franchise – there is nothing even approaching Alfonso Cuarón’s visual flair – it is also thoroughly enchanting in its by-the-numbers sincerity. It is a genuinely magical introduction to the exquisitely realised magical world, with a host of impressive CGI and note-perfect casting lending proceedings a timeless quality. Complete with a reliably iconic score courtesy of John Williams, this is family entertainment at its most accomplished; stalwart foundations carefully set without which the more creative flourishes of later installments would not have been possible.
With Rowling keeping a relatively close eye on filming, it is really quite impressive how little Philosopher’s Stone curtails the later movies. With a number of the novels yet to be written, it is testament to the author’s planning and vision that so little is in need of retconning ten years down the line. It is this integrity, and the astonishing degree of casting continuity, that affords the film its biggest accomplishment. When Alan Rickman greases his way on screen for the first time, it is as though he is entirely aware of the iconic nature of his truly astounding performance as the enigmatic Severus Snape.
Lumos: Although ultimately lost in the transition from book to film, Harry’s green eyes and Hermione’s buck teeth are noticeable in the film’s final scene. Resulting in an allergic reaction and needless discomfort respectively, however, both character traits were eventually dropped.
Homenum Revelio: Perpetual Young One Rick Mayall, though cast in the role of Peeves the poltergeist, never appears on screen.
Check back on Friday for our look at the second film, when Harry and Co. venture into the Chamber of Secrets.
Check up with the other films so far in the Harry Potter Retrospective here.
Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsTM – Part 2 is in cinemas now
Harry Potter Years 1-7: Part 1 Box Set is available on Blu-ray and DVD now