Rating: PG for very intense action situations
Run Time: 2 hours, 32 minutes
Yes, I read the first book. No, I am not a die-hard fan. And yes indeed, “Harry Potter” stands on its own as an accomplished cinematic achievement.
Legions of Potter devotees will thrill to this action-packed adventure, starring the fetching Daniel Radcliffe as wise-beyond-his-years, wizard-in-training Harry Potter. Harry, left on his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s doorstep as a child by kindly magicians, lives a miserable existence as the Cinderella of the Dursley family. Ignored in favor of his spoiled cousin Dudley (think “Willy Wonka’s” Veruca Salt), Harry finds salvation on his 11th birthday in the form of a special invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Despite his wicked relatives’ objections, Harry is whisked away by gentle giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to prepare himself for Hogwarts. First stop on the agenda – shopping for school supplies. In this case, flying broomsticks, magic wands, and talking animals. Once at school, Harry is befriended by the smug, bookish Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the sweet and self-effacing redhead, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Like any boarding school worth its salt, Hogwarts has a complement of bullies (most notably the malicious Draco Malfoy), warty, old-fashioned instructors, and challenging classes. Apropos of a school specializing in wizardry, required courses include flying, levitation, and magic potion brewing.
Harry arrives at Hogwarts as somewhat of a legend, having spurned (as an unsuspecting infant) the evil intentions of a dastardly devil who eliminated Harry’s birth parents. Uncovering the murderer’s identity is a mystery that Harry is determined to solve, once imbued with his full range of powers.
No expense was spared in keeping this much-anticipated adaptation true to the book, nor on the special effects necessary to bring it to life. The list of first-class effects is endless – ranging from owls delivering a blizzard of post to the ever-morphing Hogwarts dining hall ceiling. A high speed game of Quidditch (an aggressive sport played in the air on broomsticks, accompanied by quaffles and golden snitches) competes with a rather violent match of Wizard’s Chess for Best of Show. A most excellent talking snake and the enchanted Sorting Hat are magical miracles of technology. Monsters and ghoulish make-up are on a striking professional par with the computer-generation. A giant green troll terrorizes Hermione in the girls loo. Gringott’s Bank goblins greedily calculate their stores of gold. And a beastly three-headed dog (“Fluffy”) stands guard over a mysteriously dank corridor.
Who didn’t want a part of the Harry Potter legend? Veterans John Hurt, Maggie Smith, John Cleese and Richard Harris are all along for the ride as members of Hogwarts fanciful administrative team. As are talented thespians Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw and Ian Hart. The three child leads are remarkably self-assured, not an easy task considering the blue-screen work required of a supremely effects-heavy project.
Last half hour is bogged down with an unbroken string of daring adventures that get repetitive at the two-hour mark. Pat resolutions take over where dangling plot threads would be welcome (this is fantasy, after all, and we’re talking multiple sequels). Overcoming dark forces lends a sinister air that’s vaguely ominous considering the young target age. But “Harry Potter” is destined to enchant even the most cynical of moviegoers.