Saturday, 14 June 2014

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Part 1

Over the last five weeks I’ve done a series of posts, in a live blog type style (which I could never actually do as I don’t have access to the internet at home where I actually watch all my films), on the animated version of The Lord of the Rings. It was quite a lot of fun to do and it meant that I paid more attention to the film that I might otherwise have done – usually I watch films over the top of my knitting or a notebook (if it’s one I’m seeing for the first time or which I want to devote some attention to) or over the top of my phone or Kindle (if it’s one I’ve seen plenty of times before and don’t need to give it my full attention). I don’t like to feel like I’m sitting around doing nothing, it’s like I feel like my time is being wasted if I’m just watching TV instead of doing something productive at the same time.

Anyway, blogging about the film gave me the chance to do something while I was watching it, but also made me pay attention to the film. And it seemed like some people agreed with my thoughts as I watched, which was nice.

I actually got the original idea to do this when Mr Click and I were watching the Harry Potter films back around the Easter bank holiday weekend. But I didn’t actually sit and start making notes until partway through our rewatch so I knew I’d have to find something to fill the gap while I went back and rewatched the earlier ones again. Luckily I got enough out of The Lord of the Rings to keep me going for five whole weeks.

Despite my assertion (to myself) that I would try and keep these ones shorter, it ended up being about the same length (when all this rambling at the beginning is taken into account), so I'm splitting it into three in an attempt to avoid totally overwhelming anyone who's actually reading it.

1. I remember exactly how excited I felt when I first saw this film. It was before The Lord of the Rings came out so I think this was the first real time when I was aware of a film coming out and I got all that excitement about it being an adaptation of a book I’d loved and the sense of fear in case it wasn’t quite right. Hearing the opening music takes me right back to my seat in the cinema (centre row, far left hand side).

2. I also have to say that the music is quite creepy if you lie and listen to the opening notes in a dark room. It was the CD we had in the CD player we used as an alarm clock for a while and it didn’t have a random option. Every morning I would wake up imagining a dark and empty park with a swing moving slowly in a non-existent breeze. It’s like something out of a horror film!

3. Richard Harris was a great Dumbledore. It’s funny though, I can’t really imagine him in Michael Gambon’s place in the later films. He worked as Dumbledore in the first two films, but Gambon works as Dumbledore in the others. I can’t explain why I feel that way.

4. I like the way they show McGonagall changing into a cat with the shadow here. I love the way that they cover so much of the first chapter of the book and I understand why they chose to start here, relatively close to the end of the first chapter, but part of me wishes they’d shown some of the collision of the Muggle and wizarding worlds that Mr Dursley experiences at the beginning of the book. I remember that chapter drawing me into the world and wanting to know more and I wish there’d been a way to make it work on screen.

5. It always makes me smile when Hagrid says Harry fell asleep as they flew over Bristol. When I first read the book I’d just moved to Scotland from a town on the outskirts of Bristol, so it made me happy that they kept it in.

6. McGonagall doesn’t want to leave Harry with the Dursley’s as they’re horrible people. I really don’t disagree with her. I know now why he had to go to them, but was there no one else they could’ve found instead of them. Dumbledore tells Hagrid not to cry as it’s not really goodbye, except considering who they’re leaving him with, it could well have been! Then again, mistreating Harry to the point of death probably wouldn’t have looked good to the neighbours so I suppose they had no choice but to put up with him.

7. The layout of 4 Privet Drive is basically the same as my old house down south. It was one of those cookie cutter houses where you can walk into any house and know which bedroom is smallest, where the airing cupboard is and which side of the house the staircase is on. The Dursley’s have a bigger kitchen though.

8. While Harry serves breakfast and Dudley overreacts at the number of birthday presents he’s been given I can’t help but think that the children’s acting in this film can feel a bit forced at times. I don’t think that they’re bad at acting, it’s just that they get so much better as the films go along that I feel more aware of it when I watch the earlier ones.

9. Oh, and I mentioned Bristol earlier. The Reptile House is the one at Bristol Zoo. I’ve been there! The statue is of Alfred who was one of their gorillas from the 1930s. I’ve had a book about the zoo since forever (seriously, it’s a book about the history of the zoo and I’ve had it on my bookcase since I was about five or six) and he gets a mention. I love seeing this bit even though it’s only on the screen for a second.

10. Harry uses the trip for some quality bonding time with a Burmese python who he inadvertently sets on his cousin. If there’s anyone who deserves to be in a cage it’s the Dursley’s, just saying. The Dursley’s are understandably annoyed at their son becoming trapped in an escaped python’s cage and Mr Dursley blames Harry. Harry is understandably baffled by this.

11. I know Harry is only eleven (well, ten at this point) but I feel like he’s capable of slightly more intelligent thought processes than what follows next. He receives a letter, amazingly addressed to him right down to the fact that his bed is located in the cupboard under the stairs, and he just blithely carries it through to the kitchen where the rest of the family is eating breakfast. You would think that he would know they would take it away from him. If it was me I would’ve posted it through my cupboard door to look at in private later.

12. At least Hogwarts aren’t easily deterred. As Mr Dursley goes to greater and greater lengths to stop Harry from getting the letters, more and more owls arrive with them and with them come more and more letters. You’d think they’d just send someone down there to say ‘look, Harry’s coming with us’. Actually that’s a little bit sinister, maybe their way is better.

13. The bit where all the letters come flying through the fireplace makes me wonder why Harry just stands there watching them for so long. Then when he finally does make a move, it’s to jump on the table! Seriously Harry, the whole world is counting on you to save them from a seriously Dark wizard. You need to be more practical!

14. You would think that given Hogwarts’ persistence that Mr Dursley would just give in. It’d get Harry out of their house for the best part of each year and at the end of that time they can just kick him out and never see him again. Instead he takes the family to shack in the middle of a stormy sea. Just the place where every boy wants to spend his eleventh birthday.

15. ‘You’re a wizard, Harry’ was a bit of a catchphrase at school for a while when this film came out. As Harry finally gets his Hogwarts letter Petunia is positively scathing of her sister. I wonder how much the actress/director/other important people had been told about Lily and Petunia’s relationship, Snape and everything. I kind of wish Petunia had gotten a little bit more screen time in the films.

16. Hehe, Hagrid wraps up our time with the Dursley’s by giving Dudley a piggy tail before carting Harry off on a shopping trip. I like the way they speed things up here because it saves dealing with the issue of waiting around for school to start as well as the hassle of Vernon having to take Harry to the train station, because surely he could just say no, which would make for a really short film!

17. I wonder if Harry’s first touch of fame and his renown in the wizarding world at all mirrors the young cast’s experiences as they suddenly found themselves household names.

18. That wall is awesome. I love the way it sort of folds up. It’s like something out of Labyrinth.

19. I want to go to Diagon Alley. When I went to Tallinn in Estonia the way there were loads of these little streets with old buildings that seemed to lean towards each other and it reminded me of this so much. I kept on expecting to come across a shop selling cauldrons or vanishing books or something.

20. And here’s where we get our first hint of the film’s mystery as Hagrid has official business to attend to. You know there’s a mystery coming up because the music gets all twinkly and mysterious. Speaking of which, the door for vault 713 is really cool. I’d like something like that on our spare bedroom door.

21. The way Hagrid tells Harry he should go to Olivanders bothers me for two reasons. Firstly he makes it sound like there’s a whole host of wand shops he could go to, and secondly it’s kind of a big deal but he’s not really very enthusiastic about it. He leaves Harry to it by himself (albeit to go and get him a gift of an owl, but whatever). I suppose he’s a little bit sad since his own wand was broken in half, maybe he’s embarrassed to see Mr Olivander because of it.

22. I love all the responses to the different wands. Poor Mr Olivander. Every year he must have to put up with young witches and wizards coming to get their wands and completely trashing his shop!

23. Harry’s wand is obviously the right one because not only do we get mystical twinkly music, we also get a glowing light and a mysterious breeze. Oh and the information that the wand’s twin belongs to Voldemort and killed Harry’s parents. Olivander sounds a little bit like he’s, I don’t know, in awe of what Voldemort achieved with his wand. It’s certainly putting a bit of pressure on young Harry’s shoulders.

24. Harry (and the members of the audience who haven’t read the books yet) get a quick lesson on who Voldemort was and what happened to Harry’s parents. And all I can think about while I watch this is reading people’s complaints online because baby Harry is shown wearing a Blue’s Clues top which wasn’t available at the time when the Potters were killed which, I think, is evidence that people will complain about anything!

25. While I’ve been distracted by this thought Hagrid’s been telling Harry all about Voldemort and even gets in a little quip about Harry being ‘The Boy Who Lived’ just like the title of the first chapter of the book. Do you see what they did there?

26. Despite being expelled from Hogwarts and having his wand snapped, I guess Hagrid can disapparate because he disappears pretty sharpish without actually telling Harry how to get onto Platform 9 ¾. Luckily the Weasleys are out en masse and talking loudly about Muggles. Molly Weasley is lucky that Harry wasn’t just a curious Muggle child who’d witnessed two boys disappearing through a solid pillar otherwise what happens next would have taken some serious explaining.

And this seems like a good place to stop. You'll be pleased to know that this is the longest of the three posts I've separated this into; unlike the Harry Potter books, they get shorter from here on in. Sorry about that, I tend to ramble, you might have noticed.

Next Saturday Harry will head to Hogwarts, get sorted into Gryffindor, learn to fly, tackle a troll and celebrate Christmas.


  1. That was a fun review! Nice of you to concentrate on all the positive aspects. I compare the movies too much to the books...

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was quite negative in my review of the animated Lord of the Rings but I love the Harry Potter series so much I think I'm willing to overlook more of its flaws. :-)


Let me know what you think. :-)