Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 32 min.
Our content rating: Violence 3; Language 1-; Sex/Nudity-0.
Our Star Rating (1-5): 5
Do not envy the wicked,
nor desire to be with them;
for their minds devise violence,
and their lips talk of mischief.,,
Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
and those who have knowledge than those who have strength;
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
Proverbs 24:1-2, 5-6
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:13
I thought Christmas had come early while watching the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel. Like most of the book-reading public, I had been captivated by the four Harry Potter novels, so full of atmosphere, suspenseful action, and wonderful characters. And like them, I was concerned about what would happen to my book friends during their transition to the big screen. We need not have worried. Harry Potter and friends were in the good hands of producer David Heyman, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and director Chris Columbus, all of whom had made promises to Ms. Rowling of sticking close to the book.
Harry Potter has lived the first ten years of his life in a Cinderella-type hell. Harry has never known his parents because the malevolent wizard Valdemort murdered them. The murderer tried to kill Harry also, but even though he was a baby, he was too powerful for the villain. Harry was left with a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, and Valdemort, wounded and drained of his power by his effort to kill Harry, had slunk off to begin the long process of recuperation. Deposited on the doorstep of his Aunt and Uncle Dursley, Harry does not learn anything about his past because the wizard-hating Dursleys have lied that his parents were killed in an auto accident. They dress Harry in hand-me-down clothes and make him live in a cubicle under the stairs, whereas their pampered and spoiled son Dudley is showered with attention. Harry has never had a birthday cake or card, so he expects nothing on his eleventh birthday—until a series of letters, and then a blizzard of mail arrives, all from a Hogwarts Academy. The Dursleys will not let him see any of them, but finally, with the arrival of the giant Hagrid, Harry learns that he is a wizard invited to the premier wizard academy Hogwarts.
At the wizard’s school Harry begins to feel truly at home for the first time in his young life. He makes two fast friends, Ron and Hermione, becomes a member of the school Quidditch team, and finds a good deal of support, not only from the gentle giant Hagrid, but also from Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall. He also finds an enemy in Draco Malfoy, who could have served as a poster model for the Hitler Youth, with his blond looks and slicked-back hair. Lurking in the background is the threatening figure of Valdemort, who has slowly been recovering his strength from the violent encounter with the Potter family years before.
The great gothic castle-like sets for Hogwarts are awesome, and the Quidditch game is as exciting to watch as the chariot race in Ben Hur. In case you have not read the books, Quidditch is the passionate sport favored by the students that bears a slight resemblance to soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and polo. Unlike the latter, the players are mounted on flying brooms rather than ponies, and four kinds of balls are utilized, the most difficult being a small golden sphere with wings that hides out and must be caught only by one player per side who are called seekers. Because of his unexpected skills on a flying broom, Harry is tapped to be the seeker for his team, an unheard of honor for a new student.
The young actors—Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger—perform well in the company of such awesome giants of the British stage and film as Richard Harris (Prof. Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall), Saunders Triplets (Hagrid), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia). The casting director shows more sensitivity in this film than those in such films as Shallow Hal (and even J.K. Rowling herself in the novel) in that the Dursleys are not shown as fat blimps (how Hollywood loves to put down fat people!). but as fleshly creatures whose appetites know few bounds. The film improves on the novel also by peppering the student body at Hogwarts with a few Africans and Asians.
There are plenty of special effects that require more than one viewing to appreciate them, such as paintings that move, cavorting ghosts (John Cleese has a cameo role as Nearly Headless Nick), magic effects of wands and spells, flights upon broomsticks, and a sorting hat that decides which of the four houses a new students will live in. The Dursleys, Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley), John Cleese (Nearly Headless Nick), Alan Rickman (Prof. Snape), and Zoe Wanamaker (Prof. Flitwick). Thanks to the strong performances by all, this special effects-filled movie is light years ahead of the usual summer spectacle films. This one has heart, a big heart, because the characters, so true to the novel, are well rounded. Even Prof. Snape turns out to be more than the villain we think he is. Only Harry’s rival Draco Malfoy, and of course Harry’s abominable relatives the Dursleys, are the kind of stock characters we find in cartoons.
Like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series and Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring series, Rowling’s books create a highly detailed fantasy world in which magic is possible because the borders between imagination and reality are blurred. The fears of conservative Christians that Harry Potter will lead children into accepting witchcraft and evil are as groundless as fearing that fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast or Snow White will lead children astray. Ms. Rowling’s universe, like those of the great fairy tales and the fantasy novels of Tolkien and Lewis, is one in which people must choose between good and evil. This film teaches well the importance of friendship, loyalty, courage—and above all, of sacrificial love. We see the latter in two places: when Ron sacrifices himself in a game played with gigantic chess figures so that Harry can move on and rescue the sorcerer’s stone from the villain; and when Dumbledore tells Harry that he was saved from death because of the sacrificial love of his mother, the same quality which had given Harry his strength to triumph over so much opposition. (“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is Love. He didn’t realise that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.”) Thus Harry Potter can be viewed as a visual parable celebrating the qualities so necessary for a child to grow into a mature human being, and of course, affirming the eventual triumph of good over evil. Calling the film “Satanic,” as some Christian leaders have done, is similar to the charge hurled by religious leaders against a certain rabbi from Nazareth after he healed the man born blind. How can a film that emphasizes the necessity for us to make a choice to serve on the side of good be considered as “satanic”?
Memorable/touching scene: Ron and Harry come upon a mirror called Erised, a name that is Desire spelled backward. Ron sees himself decked out in a Quidditch uniform and holding a championship trophy. Harry sees something very different. Staring out of him is not only his image but also that of his mother and father, assuring him that they love him. This is, of course, what Harry has been denied all through his life by the hateful Dursleys. Prof. Dumbledore tells Harry that the mirror shows what a persons deepest desire is. He then warns Harry to beware of gazing into the mirror for too long. This could be dangerous. Good advice, and very much against most of the messages beamed by advertisers to the young readers of the Potter books!
Reprinted from the January 2002 issue of Visual Parables.
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