Succumb to the power of Harry Potter

Forget college: run off to wizard school! A great book makes a great movie, right? Well, not usually. For this reason many Harry Potter fans may feel a bit uneasy about the film’s release. Suck it up kids, this film is going to hit in a big way and for good reason.

Denial can go a long way, but even the strongest denunciation cannot quell the world’s obsession with Harry Potter, boy wizard extraordinaire. The books in the Harry Potter series, penned by British author J.K. Rowling, have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone tells the tale of the magically gifted Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), a boy orphaned as a baby and left to live with his revolting relatives Vernon and Petunia Dursley (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw). Harry lives a sad and lonely life until his 11th birthday, when the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) walks in – or rather through – the front door. Hagrid tells him that his parents are two of history’s most famous wizards and Harry has been invited to hone his own skills at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the most prestigious of all magic universities.

Harry decides to leave the “muggle” world (the world inhabited by non-magic users) to learn with others who share his abilities. By enrolling in Hogwarts, Harry enters the secret society of magic, finding the great adventure and danger that comes with the education of a wizard.

Radcliffe makes a remarkable Harry, exhibiting a kind of natural talent uncharacteristic of most child actors. Comparisons to Haley Joel Osmand in The Sixth Sense are closer than those of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. Radcliffe captures the wonder and curiosity of the Harry Potter universe, acting believably in even the most outrageous circumstances.

Of course, Harry would be nothing without a few good friends to wave their wands behind him. Young talents Rupert Grint and Emma Watson play Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry’s companions at wizard school. Despite their relative inexperience on screen, Grint and Watson manage striking performances, creating a group dynamic reflective of pre-teen social life.

Special effects are well-blended and credible. Flying students, mystical creatures and spell casting hold as much realism as could be expected. Key elements of the book, which are difficult to portray, are faithfully included in the film. Some of the effects are cheesy, but director Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) creates a convincing portrait of a world where normal rules of nature do not exist.

The major strength of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Warner Bros.) is the film’s conceptual continuity when compared to the book. The Harry Potter books have sold for a reason, and Columbus knows better than to meddle with a winning formula. The film goes to great lengths to follow the book in full detail.

The film’s youthful stars are also helped by a number of exemplary adults. Coltrane (From Hell) plays Hagrid with great ease, creating an imposing but naive character. Richard Harris (Bean), as Hogwart’s headmaster Professor Dumbledore does the old wizard stereotype justice. Alan Rickman (Dogma) is disturbingly adept as Snape, playing n the shadowy villain stereotype.

The only flaw in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is that it may be too good for children to appreciate. Although it tells a children’s story, the film delivers a level of complexity in its two-and-a-half hour run that may bore younger patrons. But for fans, the film is a captivating journey into the realm of fantasy.

It would do audiences best to admit to their Harry Potter fascination and succumb to its intoxicating plot. It is rare that a movie comes along that allows adult audiences to hold their heads up high while indulging their inner child.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is in theaters Friday.

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