Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), directed by Chris Columbus, was the start of an epic film series, riding on the skirts of the epic book series by J.K. Rowling. This debut film not only visually introduced the world to Harry Potter’s wizarding world, but it cast three young actors into the three starring roles in a hopeful and perhaps overly-trusting attempt to find the perfect faces for our beloved trio. This film brought together incredible talent with absolute newbies to the acting trade. As a musician, I have to wonder what it would be like to put on some high-profile symphonic concert or opera with some of the top musicians in the world with outright beginners. It couldn’t work! But The Sorcerer’s Stone works marvelously.

There is wide criticism out there concerning The Sorcerer’s Stone. Many criticize the “kiddy” nature of the film. Other criticize the raw performances of the young actors. And to those, I say: 1) Yes, the film is catered to a younger audience, as the first novel was catered to a younger audience, 11-year-old readers who related to the first-year students at Hogwarts. For a novel catered to that age group, it makes perfect sense for a story line to be a little tame, especially when it’s blanketed with imaginative and detailed descriptions and exposition that introduces Rowling’s comprehensive and complexly interwoven magical world. It makes sense that a story that starts with a younger audience will darken as those readers grow up. So yes, the nature of the film was a little juvenile, but The Sorcerer’s Stone may be the most authentically adapted film of the entire series. Just because the film came out when the much darker Goblet of Fire novel had just been released doesn’t mean that The Sorcerer’s Stone had to lose the magic that started the entire craze. 2) The young talent in The Sorcerer’s Stone are beginners, but I believe they embody the essence of their respective characters so well. Daniel Radcliffe plays the titular character, and while he does struggle with that lazy eye, he exudes a beautiful sweetness that I find so endearing. He balances the many sides of his character — the abused orphan boy who longs for friendship and somehow still has outstanding manners — quite adeptly, in my opinion. Rupert Grint plays our lovable Ron Weasley. The kid could deliver a punch line. Some of his reactions and jokes from The Sorcerer’s Stone have become iconic for the entire series, perhaps most of all his “Wicked!” after seeing Harry’s scar. But I think the best performance is from Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. After my most recent re-watch of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I was absolutely engaged with her performance. She *is* Hermione, from her bushy hair (which I lament doesn’t last the entire series) to her know-it-all demeanor and her exuberant enthusiasm in the classroom, she found Hermione’s core and let us all see it. From her first scene, when she enters Harry’s and Ron’s train car, repairs Harry’s glasses and then chastises Ron’s dirty nose, to her iconic “Wingardium Levi-O-sa” scene, she oozed essence of Hermione. There may have been acting deficiencies which affected everything from the cinematography and pacing, but the young actors radiated the essence of their characters — and honestly, I think that’s the most important part.

Now that that is out of the way…

The Sorcerer’s Stone is one of my favorite Harry Potter films, and it is the film I’ve seen the most. Maybe that’s why I am not so sensitive to the deficiencies of the film, because it both takes me back to that time of innocence and wonder when reading and watching Harry Potter books and films for the first time and it reminds me of the journey that both the characters in the book made and I made as we all grew up together. Re-watching The Sorcerer’s Stone is like looking back to where my adolescence started and I can look to see how far I’ve grown. At the risk of a little aside, that’s the beauty of the Harry Potter series and why it’s had such a huge impact on our generation — it’s a reflection of our assent into adulthood. OK, OK, enough of that! All that to say that I very much enjoy watching The Sorcerer’s Stone and I may be turning a blind eye to the bad because of how much I love the good.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does a superb job visually introducing the world to the Harry Potter world. It brings together incredible talent, like Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore — oh, how I still wish he had been able to complete the entire series, Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley and way too many more names to list here. One great outcome of all this talent was that the young actors had such incredible mentors to guide them through the series and into their own careers. Much like I ranted about the book series acting as a reflection of our generation growing up, the films give the world the ability to watch the young actors grow up right before our very eyes, almost like an eight-movie-long Boyhood. All of that combined with the attention to detail concerning costumes, sets, props, and John Williams’ incredible and magical Oscar-nominated score have created a craze the world is still saturated in. There will be three Harry Potter spin-off movies in the near future and the Harry Potter Wizarding World is thriving. The theme park would not have worked were it not for the creative work that started in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This film, like the novel, was the start of many things to come.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) is based off the book of the same name. Directed by author of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, the film tells the story of lonely and troubled Charlie (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson) who begins his journey through high school. Dealing with the recent suicide of his friend Michael, Charlie enters this new stage of life alone and vulnerable. He’s befriended by two seniors: siblings Sam (Emma Watson, Harry Potter) and Patrick (Ezra Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin). He finds himself a part of a group of friends, welcome and cared for.

The film (and the book) is a coming-of-age story, aimed at a specific group of youth in a specific time in their lives. It praises high school as the best time of our lives, where one realizes who s/he is. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that viewpoint, the film expresses some poignant themes about the value of friendship in this time of adolescent life. Sam and Patrick, while at first glance exhibit unfavorable traits (promiscuity and “weirdness”, respectively), they are true friends to Charlie, inviting him into their circle of friends, showing him new experiences, trusting him.

The film opens with the Fort Pitt Tunnel of Pittsburgh. This same shots occurs during the movie, when Charlie watches Sam personify freedom as she stands out of the truck, arms floating through the air as the wind blows around her. This same shot ends the film, as Charlie, after the many trails of his freshman year of high school, can finally embrace and experience the same freedom. The tunnel is a physical representation for the coming-of-age journey.

Ezra Miller is the star of the film. For those who saw We Need to Talk About Kevin, Miller’s portrayal in these two films could not be more different. Miller’s Kevin is a heartless psychopath, dripping with creepiness, while Miller’s Patrick is a bubbly, outgoing gay teenage boy. Patrick has his fair share of problems, but he (usually) faces the day with a smile on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue.

The film is a highly romanticized view of high school. It shows the children in almost complete autonomy, as if they are college students living on their own. They go to “real parties”, stocked full with dancing, alcohol, and pot brownies. High schoolers are participating in late-night performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s as if Chbosky pulled college-level experiences and applied them to a high school setting, to make a high school life more meaningful than it really is. His screenplay is more college-light than high school. Regardless, the film effectively makes worthwhile comments on the value of young friendship.