What is probably the best YA novel adaptation to movie series of all time all begins with The Sorcerer’s Stone. I know there are many who would disagree with that statement by picking the Twilight series or The Hunger Games, but from start to finish, I think this one holds up quality the best and it was the first to really do it. Along with the Star Wars series, this was the other major franchise I remember growing up and watching on repeat. I was never the kid that read all of the books, but my brother was. I remember that I would hardly ever see him reading a book unless it was Harry Potter. And when a new one would come out, he would get it as soon as possible and read it in about a day or two. He was absolutely obsessed with the books. I guess I can say that my love for this franchise stemmed from his love of books and eventually his love for the movies. In watching these, I won’t go from a perspective of comparing the book to the movie and whether or not one is better than the other because I just never read them, but I will go into a perspective of how I feel about the movie on its own.
The Sorcerer’s Stone was released in 2001 to great acclaim and box office success. I won’t go on to say that it was loved by everyone or even an awards caliber type of movie but generally it set the tone for the series that would eventually become the most popular and profitable book adaptation series. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Star Wars movies and makes me wonder how closely it was influenced by them, if at all, or if it simply took the hero’s journey as a great starting point like many movies do. It starts off by giving us a character in Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who had his parents murdered by a dark wizard and was taken to his next of kin, his aunt and uncle, to grow up. This eerily similar to that of Luke Skywalker who was taken into hiding away from a fantastical larger world that he was destined to be involved with. Unfortunately for Harry, Luke has it much better off with his adoptive family. Harry has to spend his time living in a small space under the stairs with a cousin who is spoiled and gets everything he wants and an aunt and uncle that don’t care about him at all. They tolerate him because they know they have to look after him but they don’t make it easy by any means. What I love about this is that it sets up a character that we immediately feel bad for but not where we necessarily feel sorry for him, but rather, we wish he was in a better situation. All of that comes full circle when that magical world tries to bring him back in with his invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardry. It’s apparent that they are aware of the school and the magic and it makes you dislike them even more but I love how subtle it is about slowly being you into this world from the real world. It’s like we’re being introduced to it at the same pace as Harry who is essentially us as viewers. They plot this out very well as the magical world slowly starts to unravel before us.
This movie took a chance at box office success by setting up a lot of different things. It was playing the long game and banking on this movie making money so that they could expand further on this world in future movies. There was no guarantee at the time that this would be successful except for the large fan base it already had from the books, so to fully embrace the set up and long game aspect of this movie really shows how confident they were when making it. There are a lot of things that we get introduced to that work well in this movie because we as viewers hadn’t yet seen it, such as the different shops that Harry has to go to in order to get his wand or the Gringotts bank where he gets some money that was left to him by his parents. It gives you an inside look at some of these places that the next movies can brush over because we already know about them.
The school is also a major hit and a great basis for telling a story like this. It gives you the perfect opportunity to continue this unraveling of this magical world and the different aspects that will play a larger role while also introducing many new characters that you assume you will see in future installments. Sure we got potions class, quidditch class but maybe not some others, but because it’s a long game, they know now that they can go into the next movie showing different classes without boring audiences with a rehash of things we’ve already seen before.
Now this movie was made almost two decades ago, so the visuals and CGI don’t hold up as well when you go back and watch it, but they also aren’t jarringly bad. You can definitely see some obvious CGI versions of characters in the scenes with quidditch, but the troll scene actually looks pretty good considering how far we’ve come since then. I do feel that because of the limitations at the time, there were some things that could have been done better or some things that maybe they wanted to do but couldn’t because of the limitations. I don’t knock this movie at all because they didn’t have much of a choice but it would be interesting to see how someone would go about making this movie in present day and the choices they would make. Another visual highlight is the whole ending when they’re essentially going through trials to get to the final boss. The three headed dog while clearly CGI actually doesn’t look as bad as some other scenes. It could be that they spent more money on this dog than they did the quidditch characters, but I think that’s a fair choice as it still holds up today. The next few trials also hold up with the vines looking practical and still working as being creepy and the flying keys seems cool but suffers from it just being another trial. The real highlight of the trials is the chess match that has some awesome visuals that absolutely hold up and make me wish there was some way we actually could have a chess game like that.
The characters are good but held back by the child actors. It’s always hard and nearly impossible to find a perfect group of child actors and our main group of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Malloy are all performed well but clearly not the best acting. The good thing is that the further you get into these movies, the better the actors get also and they are all still great actors in the project they’ve had after the series ended. I know for some this movie and the next one are a little harder to watch because of the acting, but I still enjoy the movies nonetheless. I also enjoy how it gives a good arc for our three core characters who go through adversity and eventually have their moment to shine in the end with the trials. The one character that seems the most insignificant and doesn’t quite have enough setup is the villain, Professor Quirrel. It’s not that they handle him poorly, but that he’s just there for the sake of needing an introduction a version of Voldemort. It’s a bad thing because it’s an interesting reveal if you haven’t seen the movies before since you’re more expecting Snape to be the villain, but in the end you don’t care about him because you’re more intrigued with Voldemort.
This movie is an absolutely perfect way to setup a franchise that in further movies continues to step up its game in quality. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s a fun enjoyable ride that seems to do everything right to get you excited for what’s to come with the next installments. It has great character arcs and a lot of heart that really holds it together and makes it a rewatchable movie. The music by John Williams is also killer and an instant classic with a memorable theme that will go down as being one of the most recognizable in cinematic history. I love this movie and can never watch the series without starting with this one. Some people like to skip to the third but to really get the full effect and feel, you have to start with this one. It has some cringe worthy dialogue and a few cringe worthy moments, but all of it is overshadowed by the set up it does for this world. The heart is really what binds it together and what makes it a more enjoyable time than most YA adaptations.