9/11/07

R047 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

(2001, Children-Fantasy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

I CAN HAZ WIZARD?

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

The eponymous orphan fights the forces of darkness at wizard school.

Summary:

My name is Potter, and I am funky.Ten years ago, baby Harry survived a terrible attack by the dark wizard Voldemort. The assault killed his parents, but as she died, Harry’s mom cast a spell sealed by her own sacrifice that made Harry an anathema to evil sorcerers. This caused his attacker’s demise... but you weren’t supposed to know that yet. Sorry.

Anyway, the whole wizard community rolls out a sort of “ding-dong the witch is dead” celebration, during which Harry is spirited away by the wise wizard Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and left in the care of Harry’s more mundane relatives, the Dursleys. Advancing to the present day, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has grown up in a cupboard under the Dursley’s stairs, and despite the borderline abusive parenting techniques of his aunt and uncle, has somehow become a remarkably complex-free young man.

One day, Harry receives a letter delivered by an owl. His uncle confiscates and destroys it. More owls arrive with letters. Dursley destroys those too. When letter-bearing owls mob the house, they all go on vacation to a remote island to escape them. It’s no use; at midnight on Harry’s birthday, a huge hairy man named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) breaks down the door to deliver the letter personally. Turns out that Harry is a wizard just like his mom and dad, and has been invited to attend Hogwarts, apparently the premiere school of wizardry in the country. Why didn’t the Dursleys want him to know this? Who knows?

Harry hurries off with Hagrid to Diagon Alley, a Dickensian shopping mall for magical folk, hidden in downtown London. They purchase school supplies (including a wand provided by John Hurt) clear up some of the backstory (as noted in the first paragraph of this summary) and engage in ominous foreshadowing (i.e., their trip to the goblin bank to pick up something that turns out to contain the eponymous magic rock.) More enchanted shenanigans ensue as Harry boards an invisible train bound for Hogwarts, and meets his two best-friends-to-be, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson).

Seek the rats of NIHM.The school year progresses. Harry attends various wizarding classes, plays a wizarding sport, and breaks a lot of wizarding rules. Over the course of the year, he learns that a magic artifact called the sorcerer’s stone has been moved to the school to protect it from an evil wizard’s ghost—yes, the very same evil wizard who killed his parents. He finds the aforementioned ghost on the school grounds later, feeding on unicorn blood to keep itself from fading. After all attempts to warn the adults fail, Harry and his pals resolve to grab the stone themselves.

This leads to a longish sequence in which Hermoine uses her knowledge of magic herbs to escape man-eating plants, Harry uses his broom-riding prowess to catch a flying key, and Ron uses his superior gaming skills to play his way across a living chess board. Harry leaves the others behind to find the evil shade already at the last puzzle. (Oddly enough, he’s attached to the back of a teacher’s head). Harry solves the puzzle and tries to escape, but the evil-headed teacher traps him. Fortunately, the anti-evil spell his mom cast all those years ago is still in effect, reducing the teacher to ashes and forcing the ghost to flee.

At least, that’s the way Dumbledore explains it in the epilogue. Finally, there’s the end-of-school banquet where everyone gets rewarded for their flagrant and repeated violation of school rules, and then it’s back on the train home until next sequel...er, year.

Thoughts:

So long as J.K. keeps my secret, I'll be safe...I confess I don’t understand Potter-mania. Sure, I’ve read and enjoyed the books. Yes, I’ve seen and enjoyed all but the most recent of the films. But they’re not that good. They’re pulp. Superior pulp, to be sure, but that we, the public, should combine to make the creator of this pulp richer than the Queen astounds me. I mean, I’ve always liked and read this kind of fiction; where did the rest of you come from? Ursula LeGuin, Diana Wynn Jones, Susan Cooper, and Phillip Pullman aren’t multi-billionaires. So why is J.K. Rowling?

These unanswerable questions aside, I admit I like this movie. Its imperfections and inconsistencies are many (I’ve noted a few of them above), but film moves well considering the lengthy running time, and the story is charming and fun. I found myself wishing that I had gone to a wizarding school too—except, you know, without the dead parents and the vengeful wizard’s ghost. Surely this was the intent of the author and filmmaker, and by that measure it can be considered a success.

With so much whimsy and humor already mixed into the film, I had my doubts about the feasibility of a Rifftrax. I shouldn’t have worried. The film keeps it light even during the scary parts, and so do Mike, Bill, and Kevin. Most of the commentary runs parallel to it, making jokes about popular culture without mocking the events in the film, per se. Examples: the lolcats reference “I CAN HAZ WIZARD?” while the cat/witch McGonagall watches Dumbledore; the suggestion “Orko?” when Hagrid talks about the greatest wizard in the world; and an exhortation from one of the owls to “seek the rats of NIHM.” A notable exception to this is the Quiddich match, a nonsensical wizard sport that the Rifftrax crew mocks mercilessly, but for the most part, both the film and the commentary are lighthearted and fun, making them a pleasure to watch together.