“Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”
—Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 123
This review, obviously, will be about the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. As an American, I read (and watched) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Apparently we Americans are the only ones in need of a special title so that the word “philosopher” will not frighten us. So, they went the through book and replaced the word with “sorcerer.” It even appears as if they shot all the scenes where they say the word in the movie twice, so the American version could use “sorcerer” instead of “philosopher.” In the review, I will refer to the Stone as “the Philosopher’s Stone,” or simply “the Stone.” However, all of my quotes will be from the American editions of the book and movie, so they will use “Sorcerer’s Stone” for proper citing, so I don’t have to use brackets to put in “philosopher’s.” Everyone got that? Okay, good.
I’m going to do one of these for each book, and I plan to post one once a month, so in July, I’ll post the final review after I see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
If you haven’t either read the book or seen the movie, I’d suggest you do at least one of those things before reading on. As always, I will do my best to mark spoilers, but I might slip up. For information on grading and spoilers see here.
When Harry is just a year old, his parents are killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry himself is hit with the killing curse, but survives, being the only known person to ever do so. He is placed in the custody of his cruel aunt and uncle, and is raised alongside his spoiled cousin, where he is forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs. When he is eleven, he is accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here he, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger have various adventures and must protect the Philosopher’s Stone from being stolen.
I usually start with the biggest flaw in the movie, but I don’t really have one in this case, so I’ll just start with the cast.
Before we begin, let me just say that I thought the casting in this film was pretty fantastic, even if the younger cast members need to work on their acting a bit, particularly their screaming. They’re all pretty adorable as kids, though, so they’ve got that going for them.
Also, I’m not going to redo each casting choice for every movie in the series. I’ll probably do the main kids each time, and I might reevaluate an adult if his or her acting was of significantly different quality than it was in previous movies. If a character is not mentioned, it is because their part wasn’t that big in this movie. They might be mentioned in later reviews when/if they have a bigger part.
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter: First off, Daniel looks just like Harry should. He is Harry Potter. The only thing that’s different appearance-wise is his eyes; they’re blue. In the book they’re green. I read somewhere that Radcliffe tried to wear green contacts, but they hurt his eyes or something. Anyway, I don’t care what color his eyes are. It wasn’t hugely important to the story. People just told him he had his mother’s eyes a lot. His acting on the other hand…. Well, he’s just a kid in this movie, and he does a decent job for his age. It’s not like the other kids do much better.
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley: Again, he looks like Ron, though he could be taller. In the book he was pretty tall. I don’t really care about that, though. Grint’s height makes even less difference than Radcliffe’s eyes. Anyway, I thought that Rupert was the best actor of the trio in this particular film. He has some pretty great facial expressions.
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger: She looks like Hermione for the most part, though I think Hermione is supposed to be more homely in the first few books. She’s got the bushy hair down. She was pretty irritating in this movie actually. Her character is supposed to be annoying at least in the beginning of the book, so it worked okay, but I have a feeling that Watson wasn’t trying to be as irritating as she ended up being. She nailed the lines where she was supposed to sound like a know-it-all, but she still sounded that way when she was supposed to be being more sincere. Luckily, Watson’s acting, as well as that of the rest of the kids, improves as the series progresses.
Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore: He was absolutely perfect, may he rest in peace. He looks just like Dumbledore should, and he sounds amazing. He’s just great, and that’s all there is to say. They found the perfect Dumbledore. Fun fact: According to the interwebz, Harris initially turned down the role because he didn’t like the commitment, but he took it because his granddaughter told him he had to.
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape: Squee! It’s Alan freaking Rickman! And yes, “freaking” is his real middle name. Sorry, I like Alan Rickman, in case you couldn’t tell. He makes a great Snape, and his acting is phenomenal. He wasn’t really likeable in this movie, but the character isn’t supposed to be yet. When I first saw the movie when I was nine (holy crap, this movie is nine years old), I didn’t like Snape, which is just as it should be. According to Wikipedia, Rickman was not the first choice for Snape, so I’m really happy that Tim Roth decided to do Planet of the Apes instead. In sum: Yay! Alan Rickman!
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid: Again, he makes a very good Hagrid. Coltrane speaks exactly like Hagrid does in the book. They made him look like Hagrid too, though I remember the book saying his hands were the size of trashcan lids or something similar, and I don’t think they made Hagrid quite that big. Personally, I prefer his movie size anyway, and it doesn’t really make a difference.
Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall: She was very good (I seem to be repeating myself). I liked her voice as well. I like McGonagall fairly well in general, and Smith does a good job of bringing her to life.
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy: He looks just like Malfoy should (how about I just say that unless otherwise mentioned, the actor playing a character looks just like how the character is supposed to look). I thought that Felton was one of the better child actors in the film. Like Grint, he has good facial expressions. He delivers his snotty lines very… snottily? One thing about his delivery is that he does them in such a bratty kid way (which seems like a good thing) that Malfoy doesn’t really sound like a real person. I imagine if this is the case, it’s probably (for the most part) not Felton’s fault. He was probably told to do them that way.
Ian Hart as Quirinus Quirrell: He had a good stutter. I thought he did a good job. His line “Master, you are not strong enough” is delivered like he is reading it off a teleprompter. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and I love it. I find that line immensely entertaining because it is delivered in such a wooden voice. Other than that, he was good. I don’t remember if the turban was purple in the book, but it was a nice touch.
Richard Griffiths as Vernon Dursley: He did a good job. Griffiths is very believable as the cruel uncle, but unfortunately, the filmmakers did not add the very subtle sympathetic bits that his character had. More on that later.
Fiona Shaw as Petunia Dursley: She isn’t blonde. That’s the only real difference between book Petunia and movie Petunia. It doesn’t make any difference to the character, but it’s a bit of a pointless change. Pointless changes irritate me. But she is skinny and has a longish neck, so I can let it slide. That and the actress does a fantastic job. I really like how she says, “My parents were so proud when she got her letter. ‘We’ve got a witch in the family. Isn’t it wonderful?’ I was the only one who saw her for what she was: a freak.” She says “freak” just perfectly.
Harry Melling as Dudley Dursley: Also not blond. He does a good job, though. I think he seems better than some of the other kids because his part is smaller, and he doesn’t have any serious scenes. He doesn’t have to be serious. His performance is still good though.
Julie Walters as Molly Weasley: Mrs. Weasley is awesome, and so is Ms. Walters. She nails the mother hen thing. And she’s so sweet at the same time. Hooray for Ron’s mom!
David Bradley as Argus Filch: How wonderfully creepy he is. Pretty much perfect. “We are in trouble.”
Richard Bremmer as Voldemort: Voldemort doesn’t have a huge part in this movie, but I included him because he is the ultimate baddie of the series. Bremmer did a good job, I suppose, in the one scene he was in.
I’m sure I missed some, but oh well. Feel free to point them out in the comments.
The Dursleys Are Normal
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 1
“Mr. Dursley, however, had a perfectly normal, owl-free morning.”
— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 4
“He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.”
— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 5
In case you didn’t know, the Dursleys are normal. They are so freaking normal that just looking in their direction produces a feeling of drowsiness. This takes up most of the first chapter. The first time I tried to read this book (I hadn’t seen the movie yet), I was too bored by this part to read the book. It wasn’t until I had seen the first two movies and read the fifth book (many things were spoiled for me) that I went back to the beginning of the series. Now, rereading the first book, the beginning is a very nice set-up for the story. I liked it and took in all the amusing phrases used. All the Dursley set-up could be taken out without hurting the story, and that’s what the movie did, and I do not fault them for it. The film picks up with Dumbledore and McGonagall meeting at the Dursleys and waiting for Hagrid.
The Letters Can’t Get Us in a Hotel
Before they go to that weird cabin on the rock, Uncle Vernon takes his family to a hotel, where they receive more letters. That’s when they go to the rock. It’s not important to the story and is deleted with no effect.
Uncle Vernon Is Actually Helpful
In the book, Uncle Vernon takes Harry to the train station. It may just be me, but I thought that was sweet. Even though he said he was only doing it because they were going to town anyway and wouldn’t otherwise, and he laughed at him for not being able to find Platform 9 ¾, it seemed like Vernon was really doing it to be somewhat nice, especially after he went on and on about how he didn’t want Harry to go to Hogwarts. He also picks him up when the school year ends. The movie just has Hagrid take Harry to the station.
Trying On Robes with Draco
In the book, Harry first meets Malfoy when they are both being fitted for robes. They have a brief conversation. Harry doesn’t like him. In addition, the part where Malfoy advises Harry not to hang out with the “wrong sort” of wizard is moved from the train (in the book) to the staircase at Hogwarts (in the movie).
The Sorting Hat’s Song
??“Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see,
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep you bowlers black,
Your tops hats sleek and tall,
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make you real friends,
The cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don’t be afraid!
And don’t get in a flap!
You’re in safe hands (though I have none)
For I’m a Thinking Cap!”
—The Sorting Hat, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pages 117-118
The first years are ushered into a room away from the rest of the school and made to line up single file. They see the ghosts for the first time and are marched into the Great Hall to be sorted. Ron is worried because Fred and George told him that being sorted was very painful, but is relieved to realize that you just have to wear a hat for a few minutes. Then the Sorting Hat sings its song (quoted above). It’s amusing, even though it doesn’t mention Hufflepuffs being particularly good finders or making things with safety scissors and glitter.
Also, in the book, the kids are called in alphabetical order. The movie has them seemingly called at random with all the main characters being called right away, Harry being the last of them for dramatic effect. So “Weasley” comes before “Potter” in the alphabet now? Interesting. It would have been unreasonable to call everyone, but they could have used that nifty fading thing they do in movies to show passage of time. They could have at least called the main characters in alphabetical order.
And the Hat seems to talk too loudly. It may have just been perceived this way, but it seemed like everyone in the Hall could hear everything it said when they are only supposed to hear the final announcement.
They also leave out singing the Hogwarts song, which Dumbledore tells everyone to sing in their favorite tune. So, it’s the same lyrics to hundreds of different tunes. It might have been funny to see, or it might have just been annoying.
Ron Punches Malfoy in the Face
During the Quidditch match, Ron beats up Malfoy, and Neville takes on Crabb and Goyle. Hermione doesn’t notice while she’s cheering for Gryffindor. He gives Malfoy a bloody nose. He tries to fight him at some other point before this as well. Neville fights because Ron has told him to stand up for himself, which leads to his standing up to the trio at the end of the book.
Another point about the Quidditch part: Ending Spoiler in the book, Hermione knocks over Quirrell on her way to light Snape’s robes on fire, thus breaking his eye contact for the curse, while in the movie, he is just distracted by Snape being on fire. End Spoiler
They also made the Slytherins cheat a lot worse. In the book, they kept Angelina from scoring by ramming into her or something, but I don’t recall them knocking her out of the sky like they did in the movie. I also don’t think Wood was knocked down in the book. In the book, Slytherin cheated to win, but in the movie, it seemed like they actually wanted to kill the Gryffindor players, or were at least indifferent about it.
Money and Flutes for Christmas
Harry’s aunt and uncle send him money for Christmas in the book, yet another thing that shows them to have some humanity, even though it is very impersonal. Ron is really interested in “Muggle money,” so Harry lets him keep it. In the movie, they don’t send him anything.
Hagrid gives Harry a flute in the book. Ending Spoiler Harry later uses it to lull Fluffy to sleep. End Spoiler
Charlie’s Friends (Minor Book Spoiler, With a Possible Minor Movie Spoiler)
Ron arranges to give Norbert, Hagrid’s dragon, to some friends of his brother Charlie, who is in Romania studying dragons. Harry and Hermione use the Invisibility Cloak to take Norbert to the highest tower. Ron can’t come because his hand is screwed up because Norbert bit him. Malfoy knows about the meeting because he overheard the trio talking about it. So, he tattles on them to McGonagall. Then he gets in trouble. After Harry and Hermione deliver Norbert, they forget the cloak and are caught, along with Neville who snuck out to warn them about Malfoy. Harry, Hermione, Neville, and Malfoy get detention for being out after hours. They are sent to the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. They also lose 150 points for Gryffindor, which causes everyone to hate them and explains why Gryffindor is in last place at the end.
The book has Malfoy catching the trio at Hagrid’s after hours, and Ron replaces Neville for the detention.
Also, in the book, the trio has to go back see Norbert hatch after learning about the egg earlier.
Talking to Centaurs and Neville’s Detention (Possible Minor Spoilers)
Neville’s part is much bigger in the book than it is in the movie. In the book, he’s there when they discover Fluffy the three-headed dog, and he’s at the detention instead of Ron. It is decided that Malfoy, Neville and Fang will be one group and Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid will be the other.
Harry’s groups runs into a couple of centaurs (in the film Harry just sees the one) and have a cryptic conversation about the stars. Then Neville sends up red sparking, meaning he’s in trouble. They find out that Malfoy was just being an ass and scared Neville into sending the sparks, so then Harry and Neville switch groups because Harry is less easily frightened.
After Harry’s encounter with the “thing” preying on the unicorn, Firenze the centaur helps him and lets him ride him back to Hagrid. The other two centaurs find them and criticize him for allowing a human to ride on him when they are equals and for interfering with what is written in the stars. In the movie, I think Firenze just says something like, “You okay, Harry?” and then he leaves.
Final Tasks (Lots of Ending Spoilers)
The movie doesn’t specify which teacher created which task. Fluffy is Hargrid’s, Sprout did the Devil’s Snare, Flitwick did the keys, McGonagall bewitched the chess pieces, Quirrell did the troll, and Snape did the potions.
In the book, there are not just three random chess spaces that are blank. Ron makes three pieces move. The pieces are a lot more lifelike in the book, and they just hit each other rather than actually destroying each other. They also listen to commands like soldiers and prefer experienced players (they don’t like Harry). The big ones can even respond to questions with nods because of how they are bewitched. Having three missing is really convenient for the trio, too convenient for my tastes. Also, the book gave the impression that Ron was just walking around the board like the others, while the movie shows him riding a horse as the knight. Then when the queen takes him, it leaves the viewer to wonder, why in the hell didn’t he just jump off the stupid horse? And why did falling of the horse hurt him so badly anyway? He didn’t fall very far, no farther than when they fall out of the Devil’s Snare, and as far as I could tell the queen didn’t actually strike him. It makes sense in the book because the queen hits him in the head and he isn’t riding a horse.
Harry and Hermione move on to the next chamber, rather than Hermione staying back with Ron. They find a troll that has already been knocked out. The next chamber has a line of potions accompanied by a logic puzzle, which makes Hermione very excited. Fire appears on either side of the chamber. On potion will take the drinker forward and one back. She figures out which potion does what with the puzzle. This is why she gets points at the end, not for “cool thinking in extreme peril” or whatever the hell Dumbledore said in the movie. I liked this chamber and would have liked it to be included in the film. Hermione drinks the go back potion and goes to help Ron, and Harry drinks the one to one to go forward, where he confronts Quirrell.
This is not a missing scene, but it’s something they changed, and it doesn’t seem right. In the book, Harry touching Quirrell just burns him. Quirrell doesn’t die, or they don’t say that he does. So, Harry remains innocent and doesn’t kill anyone. In the movie, Harry’s touch makes Quirrell’s skin break apart, and he turns to dust basically, making Harry a murderer. It was justified murder, but it was still murder, and no one seems to care that an eleven-year-old has now killed someone, not even Harry “Expelliarmus” Potter himself.
Also, in the book, Harry ends up in the hospital wing because defeating Quirrell takes so much out of him. In the movie, it’s because the ghostly Voldemort spirit flies out of dying Quirrell and runs into Harry.
According to Wikipedia, Peeves was cast, but his scene was cut. I haven’t looked at the deleted scenes, though I seem to recall watching them all several years ago, but I couldn’t find this supposed deleted scene on YouTube. Peeves is in the video game, and he’s a pain in the ass. It would have been nice to have him, particularly the part where Harry is under the cloak and scares him by pretending to be the Bloody Baron, but I don’t think his absence hurt the movie.
He’s the only ghost teacher at Hogwarts and teaches history of magic. He’s boring and nobody likes him.
Dudley takes his friend to the zoo for his birthday and doesn’t want Harry to come. Harry has to because his usually babysitter during Dudley’s birthdays, Mrs. Figg, has a broken hip or something similar and can’t watch him. Which leads us to…
She’s only mentioned in the book. She has a bunch of cats and likes to show Harry pictures of all the cats she’s ever had. She is more important later in the series.
It’s mentioned in the book that Nicholas Flamel has a wife, and she also uses the Philosopher’s Stone.
What They Did Right (Spoilers, Including Ending Spoilers)
The characters appearances were spot-on. Nearly all of them looked perfect. Quidditch was also very well done, as were most of the visuals.
I preferred both the movie’s Devil’s Snare and the flying keys scenes. I liked that they had to relax in the Devil’s Snare to go through it rather than just setting it on fire. It also showed a difference in how the trio reacts to stress. Ron flips out. Harry does at first but then listens to reason. Hermione is calm. I also prefer the movie’s rhyme about Devil’s Snare. The one thing that I liked better in the book’s version was Hermione getting a little frazzled and wondering how to start a fire without any wood (I think it was wood) and Ron making fun of her later.
I liked the keys better in the movie too because, as Harry says, the book’s version is far too easy. Plus, it has the convenient three broomsticks, one for each trio member. The one in the movie makes more sense. The keys attacking makes the whole thing a lot more difficult, which I liked because the book just had them fly around, find the key, and leave.
Final Grade: A
I didn’t expect to give this movie an A, but it was almost painfully faithful to the book. A lot of the lines were taken verbatim. Remember, this is not about the quality of the movie as a movie but as an adaptation, and it did adapt the book, making few changes, while still making the movie watchable and entertaining. In my opinion, it is not the best movie (or book) in the series, but it may very well be the most faithful adaptation. Now we can all go eat some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.
“Alas! Ear wax!”
—Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 301