Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

There won't be a child in our world who doesn't know his name.

A review by Mike Shea   Movie Rating: ( * * * · · )    DVD Rating: ( * * * · · )

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I was a little wary of Harry Potter. Both the book and the movie suffer under the umbrella of having the attention of every ten year old on the planet. Because of this, guys like me avoid them like the latest Britney Spears album. When every McDonald's in South Africa is staying open until midnight to sell their Harry Potter commemorative french fry holders even we sceptics can't resist. So today I found myself happily running home with my very own copy of Harry Potter on DVD. After my two and a half our screening, I can say with affirmation that it is a good movie, kid-bait or not.

Along with being an officially licensed pain-in-the-ass, I am also a fantasy buff. This love of fantasy is what got me to watch Harry Potter. Harry Potter is good fantasy. The movie had good material to work from so the story held together better than a story from a marketeer of Warner Bros. The kids do a good job of not being too much like kids. They have good dialog and act clever rather than being either too cool or too whiney. The sets, costumes and cinematography are all great.

While watching the quiddage and troll scenes I became aware of just how bad modern special effects can be. They remind me of the claymation from Clash of the Titans. Sure big fancy computers did them, but there was no doubt that they were fake. I think models and puppets are still the way to go. Take a look at the troll in action and then again when it is lying on the floor. The difference is night and day. Even the quiddage scene showed obvious flaws, even though the scene itself kept your mind busy tracking all the ongoing action. There's a lot to be said for doing things the hard way. One again, digital isn't always the answer.

My only other problem with Harry Potter is one I also have with the book, the Scooby Doo ending. Have we not seen the cliche' of the main bad guy explaining the whole now-obvious mystery to our clueless heroes enough times? Must every kids story have some mysterious turn of events? Some wacky who-done-it? I say no! Unfortunately, J.K. Rowling thought differently and tied up the whole movie with a big fat who-done-it.

My DVD rating system has become quite a bit harsher recently. If you don't have a director's commentary and a DTS track, you only get three stars. Due to bad consumer education and bad marketing, Harry Potter chose to release both a widescreen and pan-and-scan version. Releasing both versions separately is a really bad idea, and many people will end up buy the wrong one. Consumers need to learn that widescreen is the best format to watch a movie in, regardless of TV size. A two version release is bad for business and bad for the future of home video. The widescreen version is 16x9 enhanced and has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that makes a lot of good use of surround channels. There is a whole disc of extras but a horrible menu system makes them just about impossible to find. There is no commentary track.

Harry Potter isn't just a kids movie, though any good kid should like it. There's a pretty good fantasy here, and good sets, costumes and acting help sell it. The story has a little bit of Hardy Boys in it, but it isn't all bad. The DVD was poorly marketed, and I highly suggest you double check that you have the widescreen version. Though it does show that computer effects will date themselves sooner than we think, the movie itself is quite good. Don't miss if you had a choice...