After living his first eleven years watched over by his abusive aunt and uncle, Harry Potter receives a mysterious letter inviting him to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Suddenly thrown into a new world full of magic, Harry learns he is famous and that someone called ‘Voldemort’ tried to kill him as a baby, dying himself in the attempt. Forming new friendships, conjuring spells and learning to play the dangerous school sport of Quidditch is the least of his problems when he discovers the existence of the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ which is rumoured to grant eternal life, even to those once thought dead.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) – Director: Chris Columbus
Running Length: 152 mins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
It is almost easy to forget the fever pitch that hit when ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was released back in 2001 (re-titled ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ for American audiences, as was the original book). The novel by J. K. Rowling was incredibly successful on release and the series had already hit book four (‘The Goblet of Fire’) by the time ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ hit the big screens. Expectation was incredibly high, and, for the most part, met in spades.
With retrospective eyes, there is a lot to criticise about this first entry into the Harry Potter cannon. The young actors lack the chemistry they would later develop together. Emma Watson’s voice as Hermonie can act as a cheese grater on the nerves, and John Williams’ score is rather like a brass band falling down the stairs at full volume (immediately iconic theme aside). However, the charm at the core of the story shines through enrapturing children and adults alike, and Daniel Radcliffe, as the all-important Harry Potter, encapsulates the warmth, vulnerability, and determination needed to make the movie work.
Columbus’ direction brings to the screen a joyous sense of awe at the magical world, something which children heavily buy into. With huge monsters, fun-filled spells, an overblown magical boarding school, and broomstick Quidditch to enjoy, this first instalment in the Harry Potter series serves exactly how it should; an excellent and light-hearted introduction into a modern-day fable. One that would get distinctly darker as it grew….
IS ‘HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
At the beginning of the movie, a baby is taken to a house late at night and left with a family to be raised. One of the people taking him there asks another ‘Do you really think it’s safe, leaving him with these people…they’re the worst sort of muggles imaginable’.
In a flashback scene, a woman is killed with magic; a bright light explodes on her chest and she screams as she is thrown backwards. Her baby is then threatened by the same person who holds a wand inches from the baby’s face. Nothing more is seen but when the baby is seen later, he has a very prominent scar on his forehead which is from when he was attacked.
Harry Potter is treated terribly by his aunt, uncle and cousin. He is forced to sleep in a tiny room under the stairs and is often threatened with not being fed if he doesn’t behave himself. His spoilt cousin, Dudley, is very aggressive towards him. In one scene, he pushes Harry over roughly so that he falls to the floor and is a little hurt. He gets his own back on Dudley but when his Uncle discovers what he has done, is very angry and locks him in his room in the dark.
Harry is taken by his aunt and uncle to a remote cottage. When it is very dark a large man barges his way in and is seen in silhouette for a few seconds before it is made clear that he is a friendly character. This could be frightening for some younger children but should not be too distressing as this character is shown throughout the film to be a good friend to Harry.
A huge troll gets into Hogwarts School and attacks Harry’s friend, Hermione. It wields a large club and tries to hit her with it on numerous occasions. She is terrified and screams in fear; she only narrowly escapes being killed. Another character tries to help her but is grabbed by the leg and held in the air, the troll swings its club at the character’s head but each time they pull themselves up to avoid being hit.
There are several emotional moments due to Harry’s parents being killed by Voldermort. He was only a baby when they died but he longs to have known them and for them to help him in times of need. Perhaps the most upsetting scene is where he sees them in an enchanted mirror. They smile sadly as he looks at them and his mum puts her hand on his reflection’s shoulder. This scene is incredibly believable and enforces the grief that a child may feel after losing a parent.
Some of the students are given detention and have to enter a nearby forest which is very dark and spooky. One of them comes across a dark, cloaked figure which is crouching over a dead unicorn. When they look up, shadows cover their eyes but they have the unicorn’s blood (which is silver) all over their mouth. The figure then approaches the student quickly but is stopped and scared away before it can do any harm.
There is a large, three-headed dog which is extremely aggressive to anyone who approaches it. It barks, growls and snaps its teeth at some characters who only just get away in time. Kids who are afraid of dogs may struggle with these scenes which involve this creature although they do not last very long.
There are several ghosts living at Hogwarts and one is called ‘Nearly Headless Nick’. When asked why he has this nickname, he throws his head to the side which is almost completely severed but held on by a small amount of skin. The ghost is see-through and nothing too graphic is seen, this moment is more fun than gory.
Harry, Ron and Hermione have to play a life-sized version of wizard chess which involves the pieces brutally attacking each other when one ‘takes’ another. One of the characters realises that they have to sacrifice themselves so the other two can win the game. The Queen approaches their piece and stabs it with a large sword. The character cries out and falls to the floor, one of the others runs to them and attempts to revive them. It is unclear what this character’s fate is until the end of the movie.
One character finds another who has a face on the back of their head. It has a scary whispering, raspy voice and tells the person it is attached to ‘use the boy’ when trying to find something important.
A character is badly hurt whenever he is touched by another; each part of him that is touched smoulders, turns to ash and disintegrates and they scream in pain each time this happens. Eventually, their whole body, including their face, is turned to ash and they hold out a hand and walk towards the character that has killed them for a few steps before collapsing to the floor and crumbling away.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
The first outing for Harry Potter and friends is a great introduction to the world of witches and wizardry created by J. K. Rowling. As this movie is very child centric but has elements of violence and plenty of scares, we feel this movie is appropriate for most kids aged 6 and over.
- Violence: 2/5 (the game of Quidditch is very aggressive and several players deliberately try to hurt each other, causing some to fall from a height. The troll scene is violent and lasts for 5-10 minutes)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (Harry’s pain at the loss of his parents and childhood is a constant theme throughout)
- Fear Factor: 3/5 (One character picks up a book from the school library, when they open it, a face appears in the pages and shrieks loudly. A face appears in some smoke and lunges at a character)
- Sexual Content: 0/5
- Bad Language: 1/5 (some infrequent mild cursing and blasphemy)
- Dialogue: 2/5 (some talk of death)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of growing up an orphan, witchcraft, fitting in, forming new friendships, accepting people for who they are, fighting against evil no matter what the cost and having the courage to do what is right for the greater good.
Words by Laura Record