To see, or not to see, that seems to be the question for some Christians when it comes to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
For me, however, there was no choice. Of course, if you want to be able to TALK about current movies, much less write about them, this is must viewing.
Besides, with all due respect to people who want to set a fence around their kids and anything that even SOUNDS like it might allude to the Occult, (and that's what they are doing, protecting kids from the WORDS "witch" and "wizard," not any real application of these terms) this is the most overblown controversy in the recent pop culture wars-- and that's saying something.
Saying that "Harry Potter" promotes the occult is like saying Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer promote Christianity. They might be called Christmas stories, but even the ACLU doesn't object to them on public property. Calling Harry Potter witchcraft is in the same vein. Frankly "Star Wars," which also borrowed from King Arthur and the Bible, had a more coherent sort of pantheistic view of the universe.
I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter series, and find them immensely enjoyable, harmless fun. They aren't in a league with C.S. Lewis, or Tolkien; but how many kids are so busy with worthwhile things that they have to make that choice? Read them ALL!
I wasn't encouraged by early news about the effort to turn J.K. Rowling's phenomenal best sellers into movies. First, Steven Spielberg quit the project to take on a labor of love that turned out to be his worst film, "A.I." Spielberg probably had the chance to make the best "Harry Potter" film, providing he stayed true to the source.
And here lies the danger for the producers. Brilliant film directors can be hard to control. So long time studio hack Christopher Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," and "Home Alone") probably seemed a safe choice. The news made me groan aloud, but the results speak for themselves. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a very good movie, and a faithful adaption of the book.
Surprisingly, considering Columbus is known for slapstick, Rowling's comedic bits get short shrift. Fans of the book may complain that a lot of character interplay is also condensed; but at two and a half hours, it's hard to say the film should be longer. It just illustrates how much good stuff Rowling packed into her 309 page debut.
Unless you've been imprisoned in Afghanistan for the last few years, you probably know that the Harry Potter series of books has taken the publishing world by storm. Big name authors of novels for adults even lobbied to create a new children's books bestseller list at the New York Times, so they could crack the top 10 once in a while.
The stories concern Harry Potter, an 11 year old boy living in the most oppressive family situation since Cinderella. It turns out that like Wart, in "The Sword in the Stone," Harry is actually destined for great things. His parents were Wizards who were killed by a great, evil wizard, Valdemort; but Harry was spared because he was somehow untouchable.
This has made Harry a celebrity among the magical world; but his "Muggle" family has kept him unaware of his heritage, and, indeed tried to break his spirit, besides.
But Harry is rescued by a gentle giant, Hagrid, and brought to the Hogwarts School, where he will realize his talents; and along with his friends Ron and Hermione, thwart the plans of Valdemort.
The allstar cast of British adults have the most fun with their roles; Richard Harris is Dumbledore, sagely head of Hogwarts; Maggie Smith is the stern but tender Professor McGonagall, and Alan Rickman ("Die Hard") relishes his role as the snarly rival, Professor Snape. Robbie Coltrane is a perfect Hagrid in the film's best role.
The kids are fine, too. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Gint are appealing, but play it pretty straight as Harry and Ron. The delight is Emma Watson as the know it all Hermione.
My biggest problem was that Columbus's simple approach boils everything down to make this more of a kid's movie than it needs to be. Not that I think it should have more PG-13 material; but that a slightly more subtle, whimsical, and more naturalistic touch would have made this a sophisticated enough film that it would have appealed EQUALLY to all ages, like "E.T."
The sets alternate between the Dickensian, and something that looks like a forthcoming theme park. While this occasionally took me out of the story, I guess since this also never lets you forget that you're watching something completely made up, it answers one of the objections of parents who think their kid might be too affected by the movie.
As in "Star Wars," which also has its share of detractors, the enduring values taken away are not of mysticism, but of loyalty, courage, the duty to fight evil. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" also has some nice lessons-- thanks to a nifty plot twist-- about the danger of judging people by their appearances, or by your own prejudices.
Hey, that last one is a good one for many of the series' critics, too.