Chris Columbus gets a lot of things right with this film.
Namely the casting, which is pretty much perfection across a dozen different roles lasting eight films. Or in Richard Harris’ case, unfortunately just two. While the child actors aren’t very good at all here, they do grow into their roles in the next film, and even in this one there’s a wonderful budding chemistry in the trio, even in the awkwardness of their performances.
Standouts here are Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith. all of them perfectly inhabit their iconic characters to the point where I will forever see these actors as I read the books.
Stuart Craig’s production design is exquisite. For all the blandness of Columbus’s directorial style, I never doubted for a minute that I was at Hogwarts.
There are dozens of lovely little scenes directly translated from book to screen, and while that isn’t always the most compelling filmmaking, it did very much warm my little bookworm heart.
But where this film mainly falters is in overall narrative. There is so much to be seen, explained and set-up, that we spend at least half the film just introducing us to to the world. So when the film’s conflict finally comes full circle, it feels like a tacked on afterthought without the weight it should have
Then there’s the CGI, and it’s bad, just bad. It’s completely distracting every scene it’s in.
And overall Columbus’ direction, while appropriately whimsical and charming, is pretty flat and boring.
I would be remiss not to mention John Williams’ lovely score, it fits this world beautifully, and the main themes here are as iconic as anything the legendary composer has created.
Despite it’s flaws, this film is a compelling introduction to this wonderful world, with fantastic, perfectly cast characters and a lovely sense of charm and whimsy that carries the film even when the narrative falters.
A strong beginning for the franchise, that sets up the world quite well, but falters a bit when telling it’s own story.
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