Ryan reviews ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

The kids in the first movie | Warner Bros.

I have an embarrassing confession to make, and it’s a big one for a person that prides himself on his nerdiness. I have never seen any of the Harry Potter movies. Really. Not a single one of them. At least, not until just recently.

The first movie came out when I was around 15 years old, in the early part of my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I was trying to fit in with the cool kids and holding onto my dream of playing high school basketball. There would be no time for movies about 10-year-old wizards from fairyland.

Fast forward to 2018. My daughter is nearly seven years old, and she has begun to take an interest in Harry Potter – thanks to her cousin’s birthday party, which was Potter-themed. So, I resolved to go ahead and dive in head first. She and I would watch the movies, experiencing them together. And thus, here is my review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 17 years late.

I must apologize in advance for botching any of the names. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’ve stayed away from Googling the correct spellings of names. I do know some of the story, just from having heard things over the last several years. But I’d love to make it through all the movies with any major surprises still intact.

This movie opens with the beard-face wizard talking to the old lady from Hook, who apparently doesn’t age. Seriously, this was like 10 years after that movie and she actually looks younger. What is that? Anyway, we see young Harry Potter being left on the proverbial doorstep as a baby. Flash forward, and the wizards clearly made the right decision to leave baby Harry with these people – he’s living in a cupboard and being tormented by his Aunt, Uncle, and spoiled cousin.

But we get good news after a few scenes straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, only with owls. Harry has been accepted to wizard school at Hogwarts, despite the fact that his family clearly doesn’t want him to have any sort of joy in his life. No bother, the Ghost of Christmas Past is here to abduct Harry and take him to fantasyland.

It’s here that Harry meets his two new besties, young Ron Howard and Emma Watson. The school is filled with novelties, from talking hats to nearly headless ghosts. No wonder these kids all want to be there. Not to mention, they have a wicked wizard-version of lacrosse.

Fast forwarding here, we gradually learn more about Harry’s importance to the story and to Hogwarts. He was the baby that Voldemort couldn’t kill, which means he is special. Harry learns all about the Sorcerer’s Stone, which is being guarded by a vicious three-headed dog that’s vulnerable to harps. All is well, until Harry and the gang discover that someone has slipped past the fool-proof security system.

I have plenty of questions left about the bulk of this movie, but my biggest wonder is how the bad guy made his way through all the same tests and booby-traps that Harry and his friends struggled with. What about all the flying keys? Easy enough to explain away, I suppose, but the giant chess game? He clearly slipped past without having to do any of that stuff. I know, suspend reality, blah blah blah.

Eventually, we learn that the teacher with the stutter is the bad guy, not Alan Rickman. Which is a bit of a relief, because I like Alan Rickman. Have you ever seen Dogma? He’s really good in that movie as the Voice of God. Very funny. And strangely enough, Dogma was probably just two or three years before this movie. Huh.

Anyway, the stuttering teacher doesn’t actually stutter, but instead has Voldemort living in the back of his head. This is a bit jarring, but not quite as jarring as learning that Harry can beat him by simply touching him. Apparently, Harry’s physical touch is Voldemort’s kryptonite. The end.

I didn’t come into this movie with extremely high expectations, and that was with a purpose. People really love these movies, but I know what nostalgia can do to your own perspective. If I built up the first Harry Potter movie like it was going to be a life-changing experience, it was extremely likely that I’d be disappointed. And really, I would’ve been.

The acting, God-bless their little hearts, is really awful. I’m guessing that the kids get better as they get older, and that’s fine. I’m not the guy who makes a point to complain about children being poor actors, because these are kids. But in a movie that’s heavily carried by children, it had to be pointed out. And the aforementioned game of wizard lacrosse kind of stops the momentum moving toward the inevitable outcome. It felt like a 20-minute tangent in the middle of the second act.

When I learned that not only were there unicorns here, but that drinking their blood would practically make you immortal, it felt more like self-parody than quality writing. But then I remembered that, at this point, J.K. Rowlings was little more than a wizard fanfic writer. So I cut her a little slack.

All in all, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was fine. I wasn’t moved, but I was mostly engaged throughout. There were were some pacing problems, and that was a bit frustrating. But there was a twist that I didn’t necessarily expect, and it was well-earned. The special effects, even 17 years later, weren’t laughably bad — and that’s more than many fantasy and sci-fi movies of the same era can say.

Coming out of it, I’m every bit as excited about watching the rest of the movies as I was going in. My grade for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a B-.

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