DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Harry Potter films (6)


Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 153 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  PG

Distributor and Production Company: Warner Brothers (AOL Time Warner)

Director; Writer: Chris Columbus, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling; music by John Williams

Producer: David Heyman

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grant, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Technical:  Super Panavision, 2.65/1  Digital

Relevance to doaskdotell site: new writers, giftedness, chess


  Well, former Scottish welfare mother J.K. Rowling has proven that a previously unknown writer can hit home runs with material that readers (“other people”) really want.  And with children’s literature, no less. Family men tell me that kids really like this, that they identify with Harry Potter and feel empowered before they even betray the whiskers of puberty. So it will be good for AOL’s quarterly earnings and P.E. ratio.

   And there is the bit about magic and witchcraft. Actually, this is more like science fiction than just genre fantasy. Harry Potter finds Track 9-3/4 by walking through walls – he is gifted as a wizard, and finds himself in another Dominion, Clive Barker style, on a steam train to a school for children gifted in magical arts.  (Read, the little train from the Third Dominion of Imajica – well, the food is good here and there is no fish within a fish within a fish. Or perhaps the train of the Villa-Lobos tone poem.)  The sorcerer’s stone seems like an after-thought, showing up ¾ through the movie.

    The Academy is no right-wing re-education camp. It is filled with staircases and riches, fireplaces, and eventually monsters.  The three-headed dog is one of the best monsters ever in the movies, as is the Janus-faced golem at the end, or the troll that seems right out of David Lynch. 

   Now, the real world has become a great place for today’s most gifted youngsters—the kind who challenge the entire music industry with a peer-peer software program, or who build business empires underneath boy bands, or who collect Libertarian party signatures. Freedom does that, and it is challenged – with the possibility of a draft.  It could threaten the likes of a Harry Potter, too. It took Elvis.

   The chess game, well, it was real war.  Real pawns get annihilated.  As best I could tell, Harry Potter plays white, and faces a Scandanavian Defense. The ga,e goes 1 e4 d5 2 exd Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qc6?? 4 Bb5 One-Oh.  Not exactly world-championship chess (you don’t play the Scandanavian at the highest levels, do you?)


The second film (and Rowling book) in this series is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Nov. 2002, PG, 161 minutes). This film is even grander with fantasy material than the first one, with all kinds of wonderful monsters and effects. For example, the screaming mandrakes in the biology lab amount to baby “Audrey’s” from “The Little Shop of Horrors.” And the film gets into adult political satire as Harry gets closer to the Chamber, as he discovers this special book or diary from a century-old ghost, for “asking and telling.” Harry can write a question into the book’s apparently blank pages and the book answers with automatic writing, and then comes back with “show” rather than “tell.” So the book is a kind of DADT interactive autobiography. It’s rather like the idea of a website and search engine in a different civilization. And there is also some exploration of transformation and identity-swapping as Harry transforms into a fat boy temporarily in one scene. But what this means for the plot was not so clear. Perhaps you can learn what it is to share someone else’s problems, then return to normal with no permanent accountability. There is a great line from one of the sages, “you are defined by your choices.” Personal responsibility, even Southpark style.


Radcliffe is definitely growing up and will soon be a young man rather than a boy or young teen. (How do child actors enjoy childhood?) But see the next review.


The third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, PG, 142 min), goes on some new tracks. The new director is Alfonso Cuaron (the NC-17“Y Tu Mama Tambien” at this link) and the film is decidedly more tense and dramatic. It is no longer a kid’s film. But part of the reason is that actor Daniel Radcliffe (as well as the other “kids” like Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) is now a teenager (14), and in fact it seems that the film may have delayed while his voice changed and grew very rapidly. Radcliffe seems more serious and like a young adult, as he continues his wizardry, which now seems like an assemblage of Clark-Kent-like powers. The film, even though based on Rowling’s novel, seems like a hybrid of Lord of the Rings with its Middle Earth look, and Smallville. Harry here seems like a member of the cabal with Clark, Peter Parker, and Frodo. There is a scene near the end where his teacher resigns that may point to a hint of homophobia, as the teacher says they don’t want people like him around anymore.


The fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Warner Brothers/Heydey, dir. Mike Newell,  PG-13, UK, 157 min) is the most ambitious yet. It is shown in some theaters in Texas Instrument Digital Light Processing, DLP. For this film, with the usual widescreen anamorphic ratio (about 2.1 to 1) it produced a detailed picture that stayed in focus during movement and at various depths, including close-ups. It allowed the moviegoer to see fine details, especially about people. It resembles the fidelity of processes like Todd-AO and VistaVision.


This book is quite long for a kids’ book – Rowling was increasing the complexity of her storytelling by now. The basic storyline has Harry’s name being submitted secretly (without his knowledge) into the Goblet of Fire, which seems to be a repository for initiations resembling a fraternity or military rite of passage for young men (and some women)—in a fantasy world. I call these rites “tribunals” in my own DADT book (chapter 1). (The fire itself is a Christmas light blue, suggesting the presence of Vanadium ions (V++++), or perhaps Copper (Cu) or cobalt ions (Co) in the flame; AP chemistry students take notice!) The trials include an aerial escape from a dragon (whom Harry draws as straws in miniature) with a spectacular climax on a high viaduct bridge, an underwater rescue, and a maze that leads to a confrontation in a graveyard with a hairless-bodied golem-like being (as in Lord of the Rings) who seems to know a lot about Harry’s being orphaned. The trials seem to be arranged by the evil professor Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, in quite a disguise with an ugly artificial eye). An appealing student Cedric (Robert Pattinson) dies in the final confrontation, so there is some genuine tragedy. At the start of the maze test, Harry rescues Cedric from a tangle, and Cedric says, “I was afraid you would renege and leave me,” and Harry admits, “I was afraid I would too.” Harry tricks Voldemort into admitting his crime when Voldemort mentions the graveyard, and Harry says quietly, “I don’t recall mentioning the graveyard.” 


The opening of the film is interesting to ESPN fans: there is a World Cup in an elliptical stadium that looks like a modified rugby or soccer field (that is, for Quidditch) – even the playing surface is an ellipse. Then there is the aerial attack from the beach and the long ride begins.


But the most interesting development in the film is the evolution and portrayal of Harry himself by Daniel Radcliffe. He was probably 15 while the film was made (he says he is 14 in the script); but, although he looks a little shorter than some of his contemporaries (he is supposed to be younger according to the parameters of the story) he is (visually) obviously becoming a young man very quickly (even from the opening when he wakes up from a predictive nightmare). There is a shirtless scene in a suds bath (the movie puts the 13 into the PG-13, although the female doesn’t get in it with him), and then an underwater swimming scene in swim gear, where he is gently attacked by mollusks – cephalopods that look like a cross between squid and octopus – to the point that he will need stitches. He does get banged up a bit. He is compact but lean and muscular in these scenes, somewhat in contradiction to the boyish image portrayed by the classes. Harry is somewhat like other TV/movie heroes such as Spiderman, the OC’s Seth and Everwood’s Ephram in that he is a bit of a dork or geek, and this kind of character is becoming the new hero who can get the girl. But (unlike Spiderman) he does not get any “powers” from any exogenous source outside of his own character. Radcliffe, like Smallville’s Tom Welling, may eventually outgrow the role of playing a boy or even a teenager before the market for these movies runs out. The Harry Potter movies, whatever their literary origin with the now famous British single mother who wrote the first one longhand, all for kids, rather fit nicely with other WB offerings like Smallville, Supernatural, Angel, and Charmed, which are all TV series. They do have a British twist, however. 


The closing credits include the song “Magic Works” which could be sung and performed with a bit more energy and gusto. Closing credits music in many movies (including this one) tends to meander and die away, whereas I think a tight musical structure and musical climax will help round out an epic film like this.


Radcliffe does show a lot of poise in his live interviews on CNN and MSNBC.  


 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, Warner Bros., dir. David Yates, 138 min, PG-13) has a near-adult Harry, looking old enough for college, facing the most serious challenge to his integrity. In the opening, on a summer day in Britain where it reaches the mid 90s F (global warming) Harry sees some shape-shifters as they run to a storm drain to escape a tornado, and saves some friends with some illegal underage wizardry. That almost gets him kicked out of school – the movie has some usual concepts of “email” and “YouTube” videos embedded in newspapers and portraits – especially of playful but cantankerous house cats. When he and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) warn Hogwarts that Lord Voldemort (Ralpf Fiennes) is returning, the school fights back and appoints the mean Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) in charge. She certainly believes in classroom discipline, punishing the talkative Harry for “sedition” and disloyalty by causing his hand to be disfigured by using a mysterious quill in detention. Of course, the kind of kids at Hogwarts aren’t the kind that legitimate teachers have to worry about. In time Harry comes to doubt whether his sense of integrity is for real, or is a desire for limelight, as in a confrontation with Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). Rupert Grint is the steady best friend, and Harry has his first screen kiss with Cho Chang (Katie Leung).  


Radcliffe has attracted a lot of attention, not only as Britain’s richest teen (Rupert Grint isn’t too far behind), but for his stage acting in Equus on the West End. In his television interviews he dismisses the partial “nudity” as part of stage acting, where the audience is not that close up (as in a movie). Of course, there is that leather picture in Details. There are superficialities that women don’t have. 


Visitors may want to check out the op-ed by Michael Gerson, p A21 of The Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2007, “Harry Potter’s Secret: Hint: It Has Nothing to Do with Gay Headmasters”, here.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) Blogger.

Related reviews: Spider Man  The Perfect Score (also Tollin / Robbins); Cheaper by the Dozen ;

Batman Begins (and Fantastic 4, Lemony Snicket, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Sky High, Nicholas Nickleby)

TV series (Smallville, One Tree Hill, The Days, Everwood, Jack and Bobby, The O.C., Seventh Heaven, The 4400, Queer as Folk, Blue’s Clues



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