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Potter Set to Make Movie History

  • Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
  • 2001 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
<I>Potter</I> Set to Make Movie History

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone - PG

Best for: Kids 8 and up, and for adults who enjoy the books and want to see a magical, entertaining story.

What it's about: Based on the popular first book of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and set in modern times. After the death of his parents, baby Harry is delivered on the doorstep of the home of his "Muggles" relatives (Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths), where he's raised with resentment, cruelty and a family secret. On Harry's 11th birthday, a mysterious letter is delivered by the friendly giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers he's destined for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is already famous for being the baby wizard who survived an attempt on his life from the evil wizard Voldemort; Harry bears a scar on his forehead to prove it. Harry befriends fellow wizards-in-training Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) and discovers a new family of wizards who accept and embrace him in their magical world. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, John Cleese and many others also star.

The good: Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) stays true to Rowling's vision in this well-produced and directed homage to the best-selling series. From the opening scene to the closing credits, this magical story embodies all of the wonder, charm, excitement, hilarity, good vs. evil and, of course, magic, that the book does. To say this movie creates precedence in how children's movies should be made is not only an understatement but also a sad-but-true commentary on what big budgets and big names can buy in Hollywood. Needless to say, Warner Brothers wanted to create a template of excellence for every movie that will follow in the series ... and they did! Each frame is filled with incredible detail, from the costumes, sets, lighting and special effects, to the superb cast who (true to the book) embody their literary counterparts. Daniel Radcliffe quite simply is Harry Potter, an enormous weight to carry for any child star and the kind of defining role that will no doubt personify his acting career for the rest of his life. Every actor in this incredible cast seems to embody his or her character. It's rare when a movie has the audience applauding in the first scene, but this is an unusual movie with an incredible following. You will feel the anticipation and expectations of the audience you see it with. I enjoyed this film for all of the amazing artistic elements that went into it, and I wish every children's movie could be of this caliber (at least those recreating literary works). But I am equally reserved on calling it "family-friendly" because the film deals with the theme of witchcraft, and like it or not, teaching children that all of it is "just make-believe" is far from the truth.

However, for those wanting to enjoy what they have read in Rowling's book or those who simply want to be whisked away to an incredible world of magical fantasy, this movie is your E-ticket ride. This is one of those movies (like E.T., Jaws, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Star Wars, The Matrix, Titanic, etc.) that's going to make "movie history" at the box-office. But more importantly, it's going to be remembered by the younger generation, on which it will leave an impression. This is "movie magic" at its best and can only be deemed as enjoyable entertainment.

The not-so-good: The PG rating is for "some scary moments and mild language" which leaves the area of discernment wide open for parents. Obviously the rating is key in giving this movie the "appearance" of being "family-friendly" and thereby guaranteeing parents will take kids of all ages, delivering the huge box-office expected for this movie. Parents need to be aware that this movie isn't a "light-hearted" children's story with a traditional good vs. evil fairy tale theme, but is in fact (by Rowling's own admission) a dark battle of good witchcraft (by definition a debatable term) vs. bad witchcraft, or good vs. evil within the world of witchcraft. That is the point parents need to weigh in trying to decide if this movie is appropriate for their child. The story is obviously about magic, which is in every scene, and a few scenes will be intense even for adults, never mind a wide-eyed 6-year-old who can't differentiate between what's real and what's "movie-magic."

My assumption is that much of the audience has already read the books, so I don't believe I'll be giving too much away by warning parents about the different magical levels. If you want to be completely surprised, read no further.

There are numerous imaginative scenes (too many to mention) for all ages: a talking hat that selects where the students should live, a cat "shape-changes" into a woman, friendly (and funny) ghosts fly around the school and talk to the students, a game of ball is played on flying broomsticks, a mirror reflects what you want most in life, staircases switch in mid-air, dining tables are loaded with wonderful candy and scrumptious treats, owls who (no pun intended) deliver the mail, and my personal favorite, a cloak that makes you invisible.

But there are scenes that go beyond "kid-friendly" in their intensity: a bank is filled with evil-looking goblin tellers, a giant grotesque troll corners a girl in a bathroom and tries to kill her, a giant three-headed dog guards a secret in a forbidden room, black snake-looking vines try to choke Harry and his friends, a dark forest contains a friendly but ugly half-man, a half-horse creature warns Harry, and a giant chess game uses pieces that kill the players.

Some dark scenes are necessary to convey the evil force Harry has to battle: a shadowy figure in a huge dark cloak drinks the blood of a dead unicorn and exposes its sharp fangs to Harry, the back of a man's head contains an evil creature, and Harry touches a man who turns to stone and explodes.

There is a long-standing debate among Christians about seeing this movie, or even reading the books. Many would argue that the influence of witchcraft wrapped in such an appealing package (a magical school that teaches spells and incantations to children who perceive these as fun and powerful) might, in fact, entice children, teenagers or perhaps even adults to explore or embrace elements of that religion. The fact that the characters are removed from parents (the only parents shown are silly, bullying or cruel) and told that their classmates and professors are their new "family" only adds to the subliminal message.

Others see the books as an example of literary genius, and they are grateful their children are enthusiastic about reading the books. Avid fans who are eagerly anticipating the movie will find it phenomenally entertaining.

Offensive language: Since the story is set in England, the accents make some of the dialogue difficult to understand and could frustrate younger children (even a few adults) who can't comprehend or understand the words. A few crude words are sprinkled throughout.

Sexual situations: None

Violence: The darker scenes are listed above, but I might add that the final scene of Harry battling Voldemort is extremely intense. In a couple of scenes, wizards and witches use incantations or magic to harm or play a trick on several characters.

Parental advisory: If you are going to let your child or adolescent see this movie, attend the film with them. Afterward, you can discuss the darker elements of the story and answer any questions he or she might have. Also, this movie delivers entertainment on a multitude of levels, but don't blindly trust the PG rating. Consider this before letting young, impressionable children (even older kids) who are prone to nightmares see this movie.

My concern goes well beyond this movie or Rowling's first book, to the overall influence and acceptance of witchcraft as it becomes more and more embraced and accepted by our culture. This movie undoubtedly will cast the same enchanting spell as Rowling's first book. The impact of seeing the characters and magic come alive on screen will have a powerful and lasting effect on impressionable young minds. I liken it to a modern-day pied piper playing his captivating tune to charm children away from their religious beliefs and parental authority.

The subliminal influences and enticement of this film series could lead curious, initiated seekers, down the path of dabbling in the occult. This first movie is only an introduction. The other films that will follow will, like the books, only get darker. Director Chris Columbus has admitted as much. And for those who try to argue that there is a "difference between what witches and Satanists believe in" and that "witchcraft (white or black) is not dark or demonic because witches don't believe in Satan" - spare me your rhetoric. The truth is, all of it leads to the same end.

That said, the bottom line is, parents, it's really up to you. How you have raised your child to separate fantasy entertainment that they view in a movie from real-life beliefs and behavior and the level of maturity (both spiritually and culturally) of your child is something only you can judge. Your parenting decisions are between you and God.