Matt’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Philosophers Stone
Aka: Golden Snitches Get Stitches
So it’s time for a new movie marathon and with Christmas coming up, what better franchise to rewatch? Much like Bond, this is another one that I grew up with and rewatched on what feels like a monthly basis. However, it’s been a while since I’ve sat through these in full and in the correct order, so it’ll be interesting for me to see these in a possibly new light in terms of filmmaking quality and just straight up enjoyment. I’m not gonna refute the fact that I am indeed biased but I will try my best to remain as fresh and impartial as I can. Also, one final heads up. Fantastic Beasts will not be included in this marathon on account of those movies being trash. Let the Potter-thon begin!
We start in 2001 with a philosophers stone, some really gaudy cardigans and some PlayStation quality CG body doubles. It’s hard to believe that this rather quaint looking blockbuster led to the powerhouse series that followed. Now don’t get me wrong, you can still see where the money went here, it’s a very expensive looking flick. But unlike the rest, this one has a really lowkey feel to it. Maybe it’s the effect of studio trepidation working it’s magic and hinting at the fact that, maybe they weren’t too sure how massive this thing really was. It’s easy looking back at it in 2020 with billions already made and a third spin off movie in the works but I can’t imagine the difficulty there must’ve been in making this adaptation. The result means that Philosophers feels like more of a theme park ride than an actual ‘film’ to be honest, with it’s prioritised scenes and focus on world building, more so than the rest of the series. There really isn’t any character arcs or any massive revelations to be found here, just thrills and spills. Whether that’s a negative depends on the viewer I guess.
For me, someone who has used part of his 2020 quarantine period to dig into the books for the first time, it’s turned out to be quite the mixed bag on this viewing. That’s right, I am now one of ‘those people’ that compares the movies and the books and whines about missing characters and events. Now this is a two and a half hour long movie and I get that some people, no, most people would’ve gotten a degree of boredom from a three to four hour cut of a Harry Potter movie, but I’d strongly appreciate it if Warner Bros had pulled a Peter Jackson and thrown us an extended cut. I mean, there’s not much important that’s really missing but how could they miss out Peeves The Poltergeist or some of the dialogue with the Dursley’s or even just Neville falling asleep outside the common room after forgetting the portrait password? I’m just rambling but I’ll just say that this issue will only become more prevalent as the films progress. I am prepared to nitpick.
As for what the movie does have though, it’s still such a fun time nearly two decades later... yes, this movie is almost as old as me... sigh... Seriously though, this is just such an easy watch. It has that rustic charm that I love so much about this property. These characters, those locations, that music, it’s all like a fireplace at your grandmothers house at Christmas. Hogwarts for many, possibly me included, is somewhat of a second home. Seeing this with the benefit of visiting both the Orlando theme park attractions and the Leavesden Studios set tour, I just have a much greater appreciation for the craft here. The cobbles on Diagon Alley, the dimly lit Gryffindor common room, the spooky underchambers of the school where we find ourselves in the third act, it’s all perfect and even as a twenty three year old, I still find my imagination going wild. The cast here just compliments the whole thing too. The acting might be ropey from the younger characters at times but everyone still shines. As annoying as Hermione is, I found her absolutely hilarious on this rewatch, with her constant correcting and smarmy know it all demeanour. Same with Ron, bless him. He’s just so completely out of his depth most of the time and it’s just so difficult to hate him for all of his stupidity. The older cast seems to impress me most though, mostly comprised of actual British talent. I’ll always prefer Richard Harris’s frail wizened portrayal of Dumbledore over Michael Gambon’s, he’s just more of a grandfather figure, which is how I’ll always see Dumbledore. But obviously the best in terms of scene stealing is the one and only, never forgotten, Alan Rickman as Snape. Whereas everyone else seems to be playing their characters, really well might I add, Rickman transforms into Severus Snape. He’s the snide, bitter, greasy man from the books, quietly seething his way through his limited screentime. He’s no laughing stock, he’s the magical equivalent to the intimidatingly savage maths teacher from your first year of high school. Mr Rickman, you sure are missed.
So as an opening chapter, Philosophers Stone is definitely worthy at least. It might be dated in a lot of respects and sure, the script and finished edit might be very shaved down compared to the original book, but it’s enough. It might not be the four star movie I remembered it as but it’s still got the charm that young me loved it for. It still feels like ITV winter weekends and the buildup to Christmas. It’s still my childhood. If only those Fantastic Beasts movies realised what made this what it was: raw, tangible charm. Next time, Chamber Of Secrets and the introduction of this franchise’s Jar Jar Binks, Dobby the house elf. Yay?