“He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting up in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’”
Directed by Chris Columbus, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is the first film in J.K. Rowling‘s seven-book Harry Potter series of novels to be adapted onto the big screen. The story follows a seemingly ordinary boy, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who, on his 11th birthday, is visited by a half-giant, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Soon discovering that he is famous in the Wizarding World for surviving an attack by the evil Lord Voldemort when Harry was only a baby, Harry must fulfil his destiny and prove his worth, with the help of his new friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson).
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone may not have the same dark and more complex qualities of the more recent instalments, but for a first film introducing us to a whole new magical world with fresh-faced 11-year-old actors, this first chapter in a fantastic franchise does exactly what it is expected of it. It’s nostalgic, imaginative, and it’s filled with atmosphere; the precise definition of what a children’s fantasy should be.
With the original books being enjoyed by people of all ages, this film definitely has a younger audience in mind. If the franchise carried on with this innocence and simplicity, then it might not have kicked off the ground as well as it did, but for a first film Chris Columbus knew exactly what he was doing. Columbus and his writers take the time to set the characters up properly, developing their friendships and detailing their histories, and to tell the story right.
How does he do this? By sticking closely to the book. The film adaptation does have its tweaks, all of which I will list further on down this post, but overall it is a brilliant adaptation, with many of the scenes coming to life on-screen exactly as I had imagined them when reading it.
The story has a bit of everything, there are friendships, rivalries, quests, magic, jokes, scares, and even a game of wizarding sport. The film has some of the most memorable quotes out of the whole franchise, and the enjoyment shown on all of the cast’s faces makes this an incredibly likeable film. And let’s not forget John Williams‘ score, a significant quality that really helped to make this franchise what it is today.
Watching the film fifteen years after its release, some of the effects are incredibly ropey and the acting of the younger members of the cast is questionable at times, but these are all qualities we must forgive, because it made way for one of the best franchises of all time. Even though this instalment is the first of the franchise to feel aged, and seeing how the series gets better and better as it goes on, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone will remain an enchanting classic, nonetheless.
The younger cast obviously needed some time to get used to their roles at this point but, in the end, they make a phenomenal casting ensemble. I’ve always felt that Daniel Radcliffe was miscast as Harry, although he did grow on me, but Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are brilliant as Ron and Hermione, as is Tom Felton as Draco, Matthew Lewis as Neville, Oliver and James Phelps as George and Fred Weasley, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, Alfred Enoch as Dean Thomas, Luke Youngblood as Lee Jordan, Sean Biggerstaff as Oliver Wood, Jamie Waylett as Vincent Crabbe, Josh Herdman as Gregory Goyle, and Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan.
We don’t get to see a lot of all of these characters in this first film, but it’s amazing to see them grow into their roles, and it’s this film that we have to thank for that. The casting really is perfect, and even the older – more experienced and recognisable – actors are just as enthusiastic about their characters as the first time actors.
Despite my preference towards Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in the later films, Richard Harris, who plays the character for the first two films, is perfect for the role at this point of the franchise. As the franchise goes on, I don’t think Harris would have kept up with the role as well as Gambon did, but I’m so happy that Harris got to play the role for at least two of the films before he sadly passed away. For the almost fragile but excitable character that Dumbledore is in this first film, Harris fits the role well.
My most favourite casting of all is Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. He is absolutely incredible, especially in this first film, and I have loved watching his character develop. Another fantastic actor who has sadly left us since filming the whole of this franchise.
There are a lot of big names cast in this film, but it always surprises me that Ian Hart was cast as Professor Quirrell, since he’s not as well-known as the rest of the cast. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have asked for anybody else to play the character because he does it so well. And then there’s Hagrid, who’s played by Robbie Coltrane. They really couldn’t have got it any more right.
I wouldn’t normally list every other cast member at this point, but I really do feel that they’re all worthy of a mention, so let’s also applaud the performances from Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia, Harry Melling as Dudley, Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon, Geraldine Somerville as Lily Potter, Adrian Rawlins as James Potter, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley, John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander, Warwick Davis as Goblin Bank Teller and Professor Flitwick, David Bradley as Argus Filch, Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Hooch, and John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick.
Differences From The Book:
Overall, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is a great adaptation but, as with most book adaptations, there are many minor changes, which I will now go into in a chronological order:
- There aren’t many whole scenes left out of the film, but it does open differently to the book. The film opens with the second part of the book’s first chapter, whereas the book begins by introducing us to the Dursley’s earlier in the day. Here, as Vernon heads off to work, the Dursley’s notice odd things happening around them, such as strangely dressed people in cloaks, frequent owl sightings, and a rare occurrence of shooting stars. This is all before the opening scene of the film where Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Professor McGonagall leave Harry at their doorstep, which works fantastically for the film. It would have been great to see this scene in the film, but the way the film begins is so memorable at the same time.
- There’s no mention of Mrs. Figg.
- At the zoo, Dudley doesn’t fall into the snake house and the glass does not reappear, but what a brilliant change this was! Dudley’s best friend Piers Polkiss also goes to the zoo with them, but this doesn’t make much of a difference.
- There’s less focus on the Dursley’s efforts to avoid Harry getting a letter. They even give him his own room at this point, and stay in a hotel before they go to the island.
- In the book, Hagrid tells Harry about Voldemort almost straight away, after spending the night in the hut and going into detail about Harry’s past. This doesn’t happen until a little later in the film, and instead of spending the night, Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley straight away.
- In the film in the Leaky Cauldron, Professor Quirrell is wearing a turban, but he shouldn’t be at this point because he has yet attempted to steal the stone from Gringott’s.
- In the book, Harry meets Draco whilst getting his robes fitted at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and then tries to befriend Harry on the train, whereas Harry doesn’t meet Draco until just before the Sorting Hat in the film.
- The film cuts a lot of time out before Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts, since in the book he has to go back to the Dursley’s for a whole month before term starts, and Vernon has to drive him to the station. Obviously this change was to cut out a lot of time.
- In the book, Harry finds out about Nicholas Flamel for the first time whilst on the train, seeing his name on the back of a chocolate frog containing Dumbledore’s card. This is what he remembers later in the story, but in the film, Harry first finds out about Nicholas Flamel when Hermione reads about him in a book.
- Whilst on the train, Hermione fixes Harry’s glasses in the film, but this doesn’t happen in the book.
- In the book, the Sorting Hat calls out people’s names in alphabetical order, and we get to meet a lot more of the first years. Again, this was probably to cut out time. The Hat also doesn’t talk aloud, but this was an easier option and also allowed for the use of more magical effects in the film.
- There’s no Peeves in the film, and only a short glimpse of the Bloody Baron, which alters a few of the scenes that follow.
- There’s no Herbology, Defence Against The Dark Arts, or History of Magic classics in the film. McGonagall doesn’t transfigure in her lesson, either; she’s not supposed to do this for the first time in front of her students until the third book.
- In the book, Malfoy tricks Harry into a wizard’s duel. When Draco doesn’t show up and Filch is onto them, this is how Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville, find the locked door on the forbidden 3rd floor. In the film, only the main trio find this room, and it is because of the moving staircases. There is no mention of the wizard’s duel at all, and Neville is not involved in the film.
- Harry’s seeker position and the gift of a broom is a secret in the book, but everybody knows from seeing the broom being delivered in the film. He’s also supposed to receive the broom after he is introduced to Quidditch, not before.
- In the book, Professor Flitwick is teaching Wood when Professor McGonagall asks him to be excused, but in the film it is Quirrell, presumably to give him more screen time before the big reveal at the end.
- There are two Quidditch matches in the book, which are combined into one in the film, and there’s supposed to be a big fight between Ron, Neville, and Draco during one of them.
- In the film, Hermione shows Harry a Quidditch award with Harry’s father’s name on it. This doesn’t happen in the book, and it is later revealed that Harry’s father had a different position to the one shown, anyway.
- On Christmas Day in the book, all of the Weasley’s get together, but it is only Ron and Harry in the film.
- In the book, Harry sees more members of his family in the Mirror of Erised, whereas he only sees his parents in the film. I suppose this was so that they didn’t have to cast everybody for only a short glimpse at them.
- In the film, Hagrid’s dragon is sent to Romania by Professor Dumbledore, whereas in the book Harry and Hermione have it picked up from the roof by friends of Charlie. Harry also leaves his cloak on the roof at this point, which Dumbledore later returns to him, explaining that he was the one who sent it to him. This is left a mystery in the film.
- After leaving the restricted section of the library in the book, Harry catches Snape talking to Quirrell, but this happens in the forest in the book.
- In the film, Malfoy tells McGonagall that Harry, Ron and Hermione were outdoors at night. In the book, they are caught by Filch, and Malfoy is caught by McGonagall.
- In the film, Neville is replaced with Ron in the detention scene in the forest. Neville is missed out of most of the fun in this first adaptation, but I assume that’s so that we get to see more of Ron. They also call the Forbidden Forest the “Dark Forest” in the film, for some reason.
- In the film, only one centaur appears, but there are three in the book. We don’t get to meet Baun and Ronan, and Hagrid doesn’t get the chance to talk to them in the film, missing out their conversation about the “fate of the stars”. Harry also rides Firenze’s back in the book, which Baun and Ronan are not happy about.
- In the book, it is Quirrell bending over the unicorn drinking its blood, whereas in the film it is a spirit of Voldemort, which makes this scene a lot more creepier.
- When the trio visit Fluffy in the book, the creature is awake and Harry uses a wooden flute, given to him by Hagrid, to make it go to sleep.
- In the book, Hermione uses fire to subdue the Devil’s Snare, but she uses a sunlight spell in the film. Harry and Hermione also fall through the snare in the film, but in the book it is Harry and Ron who get trapped, and Hermione has to rescue them both.
- The only scene I really wish the film had included, is a third test after Ron is knocked unconscious whilst playing chess, where Hermione and Harry must figure out a riddle in a potions test. This would have been great to see.
- In the book, Voldemort’s face has snake-like slits for nostrils, as he does in the later films, but he does not at this point.
- In the book, Quirrell’s skin blisters when he touches Harry, but in the film it turns to stone and crumbles. I suppose this was to make this scene a little less gruesome for the younger audiences, as scary as it was already. Quirrell also ties Harry up with rope, but this doesn’t happen in the film.
- At the end, the film quickly skips to Harry recovering in the hospital wing, and doesn’t explain how Dumbledore gets him out just in time.
The film may feel quite dated nowadays, but what a brilliant film this was to introduce us to one of the best franchises of all time. You can’t help but love it for that, and you’ll certainly be left wanting more.