After much fanfare, the first Harry Potter movie hit the theaters on November 16, and is already at the $100 million mark at the box office. Based on J.K.Rowling’s first novel in the Harry Potter series, the movie traces the adventures of a boy who discovers he is the orphaned child of two powerful wizards, and possesses magic powers. He leaves the house of his uncle and aunt and moves to Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft, where he finds the home he has never had.
Director David Heyman had been excited about the story ever since the book went into print in 1996, and met with Rowling to discuss its film version as early as 1997. Then began the quest for the perfect team to bring the book to life. Once director Chris Columbus was on board, they sought Rowling’s help to assemble the rest of the cast.
So does the movie justify the advance publicity? Read on.
Steve Kloves has stuck close to the book with his screenplay, but towards the end finds himself desperately short on screen time. The story requires so many explanations about the background that the adventure itself is left to the last half hour of the movie. He is not helped by the fact that of all the books in the series, this one is the least plot-driven. The one great thing about this, however, is that even without having read the books the audience is able to understand the background and enjoy the movie.
That said, the visual imagery is spellbinding. Director Chris Columbus makes the most of an enchanting tale and an exceptionally well-chosen cast of characters. Daniel Radcliffe makes the perfect Harry. He exudes charm and an enchanting sense of wonder. Columbus struggled with Daniel’s parents to get them to agree to let him play the part. His persistence has paid rich dividends. Emma Watson, cast as Hermione, combines charm with attitude to emerge as the perfect know-it-all classmate, albeit with spirit.
Alan Rickman excels as the sinister Professor Snape, who instantly takes a dislike to Harry. As with other adult characters in the movie, Rickman said he was badgered into taking up this role by his younger family members, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Several scenes in the movie are computer-generated images including the Quidditch matches on broomstick and the scenes with the owls. They merge into the regular shots with brilliant effect. The emotional pitches-Harry seeing his parents in the mirror, Ron sacrificing himself for the greater cause-fit in well without being cheesy.
Alnwick Castle provides brilliant exterior shots as Hogwarts, and other sets are chosen from diverse sources: the infirmary is actually the Oxford Divinity School, and the Australian High Commission in London serves as the Gringotts Bank, where the fortunes of the wizards are guarded by goblins. All these the computers merge into the magic that becomes Hogwarts, the setting for most of the movie.
If you haven’t seen it, see it. Better still, take along some kids to see it with you: they will enhance your viewing pleasure as their imaginations reveal nuances that you wouldn’t have noticed. And then, like others who see it, await the (already in pre-production) sequel!