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.