Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone

Possibly Hollywood’s first bespectacled hero since Harold Lloyd, Harry Potter makes a satisfactory, albeit unspectacular, celluloid debut in Chris Columbus’ $125 million movie about the young boy destined to be a great wizard.

Treating JK Rowling’s debut novel with a reverence that wasn’t even accorded to The Bible, Hollywood serves up a two-and-a-half hour fantasy that gets the introductions out of the way, paving the way for more plot-driven tales in what’s sure to become the biggest franchise of all time. (On the big screen, incidentally, the story’s similarities to “Star Wars” are even more pronounced.)

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If you’ve read the novel – and if you haven’t, why not? – impeccable casting means you’ll feel like you’ve met all of these characters already. The three young leads – Radcliffe, Grint, and especially Watson – deliver likable, natural performances, while the film’s biggest joy is watching the spot-on performances of their peers: Maggie Smith plays Professor McGonagall like Miss Jean Brodie with a pointy hat, while Robbie Coltrane steals the show as loose-lipped Hagrid. Alan Rickman, meanwhile, sneers for England as Professor Snape.

Indeed, the whole film plays like an advertisement for historic old England – if this doesn’t get Americans buying our castles and cathedrals, or at least coming to look at them again, nothing will. Hell, even King’s Cross station looks pleasant.

The film’s not flawless, though. It’s half an hour too long and much of the book’s humour is jettisoned. Still, it’s refreshing to witness a big-budget movie where the impressive special effects complement the story, rather than merely compensate for the lack of one.

“Harry Potter” may not leave you spellbound, then, but it’ll definitely leave you wanting to discover the “Chamber of Secrets”.

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