Plot: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up in the care of his extended family, but endured countless incidents of neglect and even abuse, treated like an indentured servant and forced to live in a cubbyhole under the staircase. His parents were killed when he was an infant and he barely survived, left with a permanent scar on his head as a result. But when a letter arrives inviting him to Hogwart’s, a school that teaches the art of magic, it looks as if his lot in life has turned around. He ventures to the school and soon befriends fellow novice wizards Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), but he quickly realizes magic is no simple skill and if he wants to live up to his potential, he will need to work hard. But someone at Hogwart’s doesn’t want to see Harry succeed and might even ties to elements deep in his past, so Harry will need all the magic he can muster to make it through his first year of school.
Entertainment Value: This movie kicks off the Harry Potter franchise, based on the book series that became a printing press for cash and launched numerous sequels in both book and movie versions. Sorcerer’s Stone has the task of establishing most of the foundation for the entire series and of course, that means a lot of exposition and seeds that bear fruit later in the franchise. The movie runs well over two hours and fills that duration with a lot of building, introducing a wealth of characters, the basics of the world, and putting a few wheels into motion, but overall, this is a primer on Harry Potter and doesn’t delve much into the ongoing narrative. But this is to be expected, given that this would become an eight film series with a persistent set of story threads, so some groundwork to be laid. The movie does suffer somewhat as a result, as there’s not much tension or depth, but there is a sense of wonder in seeing the elements of the books come alive, even if it is a surface level tour. So this first installment is a more innocent, welcome to Harry Potter kind of adventure, but it is also a necessary volume to allow the larger arcs to be set in motion.
The cast here is an impressive one, with an all star lineup of established talent and some newcomers who would turn into genuine stars thanks to this series. Daniel Radcliffe isn’t tasked to do much in this volume, but he has that sense of wonder the role requires, while Emma Watson is the standout of the rookies, with a spirited and fun to watch performance. Alan Rickman’s Snape tends to be a favorite character for a lot of viewers and it is easy to see why, as he brings a terrific presence to the role and it suits him to perfection. This is the kind of role that you just can’t picture anyone else in, an ideal fit and Rickman makes the most of the character. Richard Harris passed before he could finish the series as Dumbledore, but he embodies the character so well here and feels like an authentic old wizard, I think. The cast also includes Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Rupert Grint, and numerous other familiar faces, as this is a stacked lineup. As I said, this first movie has the task of establishing so much that is weighed down by introductory exposition at times, but it is a fun watch and the wonder compensates for the lesser elements.