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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Voicing one's opinion on Harry Potter is a bit like emptying a Dixie cup onto a forest fire. "Criticism" can barely find purchase whenever a book or film becomes so omnipresent that it loses its status as art object and enters the so-called "cultural fabric." The books alone have sold over 100 million copies, and the first movie's worldwide gross hovers around a cool $1 billion. Nonetheless, the Potter tale is a fairly brilliant pastiche of several cultural tropes. Harry — an orphan raised by his beastly aunt and uncle — discovers he's actually the famous spawn of wizards when he's invited to attend Hogwarts, a school for magic folk. Under the loose guidance of a giant, the boy struggles through his first year of school — even as he joins the "Quidditch" team (which plays a sort of aerial soccer on broomsticks) and solves the mystery of the "Sorcerer's Stone" with school chums Ron and Hermione. It's a ripping good children's tale, of course — but Potter transcends Kiddie Lit by juggling a seamless and mature blend of primal themes. In the first book alone, Rowling commingles mythology, class warfare, mentorship, a Scooby Doo mystery, sports, and death. As directed with surprising restraint by Chris Columbus from a script by Steve Kloves, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a faithful, longish adaptation that's well-acted, lightly funny, mildly spooky, and punctuated with well-staged action set pieces by director Chris Columbus. Young Daniel Radcliffe is utterly winning as Harry, and he sets the tone for all the child actors, who carry a two-and-a-half-hour movie on their shoulders with an ease that was probably murderously hard to come by. Meanwhile, the who's-who of British stage luminaries playing the Hogwarts faculty and hangers-on brings just the right tone of headmaster snobbery to the screen. Warner's two-disc Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone offers several "special features" which are something of a generational double-edged sword: For meat-and-potatoes viewers over the age of 12, the features are surprisingly few, and many are hidden under puzzles. See the full review for a breakdown of the games, although the chief attractions here are a behind-the-scenes documentary, seven deleted scenes, a production-sketch gallery and trailers Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcover.
—Alexandra DuPont

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