Friday, December 19, 2008

Harry Potter Countdown: Sorcerer's Stone (#4)

OK, now that I've got the crapterpiece "Chamber of Secrets" out of the way, the hard work begins. The remaining Harry Potter films are all not only watchable, but enjoyable. I feel no shame in admitting that I, a perfectly grown-up adult, have seen them all several times.

So by what method shall I rank these four remaining films from worst to best? Since I have no sorting hat, I'll have to rely on my own cinematic sensibilities. Which makes "Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone" the next obvious choice. Chris Columbus, easily the worst director of the series, was thankfully saved in this first outing by the novelty of the story and by Harry's process of discovery. Magic is made real, and it's pure delight as we discover with Harry that there is a hidden world of wands, witches, and wizards just beyond our perception.

Although all of the child actors in this film yield delightful performances, Daniel Radcliffe's acting has that rare gift of authenticity. He plays Harry with an effortlessness that most actors only dream of - a characteristic that has thankfully lasted throughout the series. Emma Watson's performance, though not quite so effortless, successfully captures Hermione's haughty willfulness. As we watch Hermione's character in the later films descend into a stereotypically sexist portrayal of a worried, weepy, indecisive girl, my wife and I often find ourselves wishing that Emma would go back and watch this film again.

So since I have so many great things to say about this film, why is it obviously the 4th best of the series? Firstly, because Chris Columbus developed an overall tone more fitting of an ABC Family original than a J.K. Rowling adaptation. Scenes fall together in only the most obvious ways, and the end effect falls on the cartoonish side of the child-film spectrum (contrast this with the magical world of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films whose ambiguous characters and mystical imagery always unsettle).

And beyond this, the newness of the story leaves little chance that even a master director could have managed the emotional impact of the later films. We're left with a delightful, fun story, that, like the book, hints of greater things to come.

5. Chamber of Secrets
4. Sorcerer's Stone
3. Goblet of Fire

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