Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

hp1This is the one our cousins across the pond retitled ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘, wasn’t it? How’d that work with everyone in the movie talking about the Philosopher’s Stone? What was the problem with using the term  ‘Philos0pher’s‘ anyway? These things can keep one awake at night, I mean, as if the world isn’t strange enough as it is, someone feels the need to retitle a children’s film – a children’s film!-because the title is confusing or might upset somebody or something.

Something else that could keep one awake at night is the realisation that this film dates back to 2001. Wookies in a wastebasket, what’s this- this film is thirteen years old already?!!  Good grief, it doesn’t feel so long ago.  Its a sobering thought that when this film was made and released the success of the franchise spinning out the entire book saga onto film was not a certainty. As it turned out the series of films was likely more successful critically and financially than anyone might have dreamed.

I should make a disclaimer here- I never read any of the books, and when the films originally came out I gave up around film three because it was confusing me/I couldn’t really follow it, certainly not via DVD rentals (I know, I know, I should have tried harder, but annual or biannual gaps between films left much of the Potter mythos rather confusing to me). I thought it would be best to watch the whole saga with a boxset so missed the subsequent films and avoided any spoilers (which took some doing, really). Anyway, here I am, bought the Blu-ray box in a lightning deal on Amazon back in December and am finally giving it a shot.

So anyway, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Having not seen it since on its first DVD release many moons ago, I had forgotten much of it. A number of things spring to mind. First, its got a cast to die for. Really, give it a few more decades and this will be even more true; already its a Whos Who of (largely) UK talent- I wonder if there was any pressure to make it American Friendly with the casting process? As it is, even the then-unknowns (the kids, pretty much) are excellent. So yeah, the casting is great. Second, its clear that its based on a book- there is a rich creativity in the setting that simply wouldn’t be there had this been an original screenplay- movies just aren’t this good creatively usually, certainly not when dreamed up from scratch. There is a wit and charm to the piece and threads obviously being laid for subsequent stories. No doubts fans of the books could pour over incidental details/references lost on me.

The film isn’t perfect, but as the first film in an untried series it does very well. Some of the visual effects are a little dated but hell, that’s largely a combination of the film dating back to 2001 and a likely limited budget. The direction by Chris Columbus is largely functional/competent, but it works pretty well. The cast have a chemistry, the story is engaging, it works pretty much for children and adults alike. Its a great family movie, and the best is no doubt yet to come. It will be interesting to see the cast develop and the success of the films transferred to the screen with bigger budgets and more confidence/experience behind the scenes.

3 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

  1. “someone feels the need to retitle a children’s film – a children’s film!-because the title is confusing”

    Pretty much this, except with the book’s publishers — clearly they felt “philosopher” was too big a word for American kidz, and presumably wanted to emphasise the “it’s about wizards” aspect. They changed tonnes of other words and phrases throughout the book as well, though I can’t remember specifics. Later, when Rowling had more power, she put a stop to a lot of that (possibly as soon as book 2). She’s also said she regrets letting them change the title of the first book, but didn’t feel she had the power to say “no” at the time. Clearly it’s too ingrained in US culture for them to bother changing it now, though.

    She was clearly more aware of the clout she had by the time the films came around, though, because she put her foot down about things like casting British actors — Spielberg wanted to direct but only if you could cast Haley Joel Osment, so they turned him down.

    As for the title in the film, they simply had the cast do alternate takes. Last time I watched, I noticed that the stone is only mentioned by name two or three times — whether that was coincidence or a deliberate move to save constantly re-filming bits, I don’t know.

    1. Alternate takes? So if you watch a Region 1 DVD or Region A Blu-ray version with the alternate title, the actual scenes that reference the philosopher’s stone have the actors talking about the sorcerer’s stone instead? The mind boggles- it was clearly something worked out very early, back when the book was published. I thought it was just a last-minute change for the film version with marketing concerns in mind.

      1. I’ve never watched one, but I presume so.

        I always assumed that quite a few countries must have followed the American retitling, but apparently it’s just America and one or two others. Seems like a lot of effort for so few markets, but I guess that’s what happens when one of anything is America…

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