Film Review: 'Harry Potter' magically escapes into wonderland

Director Chris Columbus’ adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s “”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”” whooshes into theaters tomorrow after months of fervent speculation. Viewers are in luck: Even the most zealous Potter fans will not be disappointed.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

“”Sorcerer’s Stone”” brings the first of the Harry Potter novels to the screen. For those who have been under a rock for the last three years, the books follow the development of Potter and his schoolmates at England’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they get themselves into spates of trouble and adventure.

Harry arrives for his first year at Hogwarts, making new friends as he finds himself contending with his archenemy come to life, the once-defeated Lord Voldemort.

Three new faces star as Harry and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, and the trio finds support with a cast comprised of veteran British actors from the theater and cinema. Alan Rickman positively drips menace as Severus Snape, the children’s sallow-faced potions professor.

The film’s particular strong point is its liberal use of computer animation for special-effects sequences. Filming many of the book’s scenes would have been unthinkable with the technology of 10 years ago. The quidditch match sequence halfway through the film — in which wizards on broomsticks compete in midair in a game something like rugby and lacrosse combined — is simply breathtaking.

Special effects also come into play at several points in “”Sorcerer’s Stone,”” whether to bring life to the enchanted Hogwarts Castle or to breathe vibrancy into the assortment of backdrops and villains that prance through Harry’s adventures. The film serves as an excellent reminder just what special effects can do for cinema when used properly; instead of filling in for bad writing or plot gaps, they enhance and make possible the things that reality simply cannot provide.

Purists will note that very few changes have been made between the book and the film. The script preserves the language of the books — its most notable change being the film’s title (British audiences will see “”Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,”” just as the first Harry Potter book was so called in the United Kingdom).

The all-British cast preserves the particularly English feel of the world of Harry Potter, and filming locations included places such as Gloucester Cathedral and the Divinity School at Oxford University. However, anybody who has been to King’s Cross Station, London, to see from where the fabled Hogwarts Express departs, will note with discernment that the film’s “”Platform 9-3/4″” is not actually the same as the space between King’s Cross Platforms 9 and 10, to which the book refers. It’s a triviality in a movie that diligently rides close to its source material.

“”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”” is certainly more than just a film for children. It is an escapade executed mindful of imagination and creativity with respect for the wonder that even grown-ups still possess. It’s worth the ticket price to go and indulge in Harry’s world for two-and-a half hours.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

****

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rubert Grint and Emma Watson

In theaters Nov. 16

Rated PG

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