Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By Ewan McDonald

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(Herald rating: * * * * * )

Here it is, another really cool thing about having two grandsons. You get to have that slot-car set you always wanted, permanently set up, and you get to learn how to play (and lose gracefully) PlayStation games, and you get to see a whole bunch of great movies that they didn't have when you were a kid, like Toy Story and Shrek.

One thing that hasn't changed in the intervening 40 years is the books. Harry Potter is just the Secret Seven on sp ... okay, really really strong Milo. Take out the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and the spells and what have you got? A bunch of smart kids running around boarding school outfoxing bent, slightly stupid adults.

For adults who haven't had the benefit of these experiences, here is part one of the story. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, previously seen as David Copperfield) is left as a baby on a normal suburban doorstep - that of his aunt and uncle, who are not very nice to the lad. They're foster parents straight out of Roald Dahl, in fact.

One day Harry is summoned to become a student at Hogwarts School, where all young wizards go to learn the tricks of the trade.

Young Harry quickly makes two friends and an enemy. The friends are Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint); the enemy is Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who will hover over his life for a fair proportion of the next five stories.

So much for the kids. The adult cast is a Who's Who - or perhaps a Burke's Peerage - of British actors. Maggie Smith is the stern deputy headmistress, Professor Minerva McGonagall; Richard Harris is the apparently eccentric headmaster, Dumbledore; Robbie Coltrane is the bumbling and unfortunate gamekeeper, Hagrid; there are pop-in and pop-out pieces of varying importance for John Hurt, John Cleese, Alan Rickman, Zoe Wanamaker and Richard Griffiths.

The movie creators produce some marvellous moments, the most stunning being the game of Quidditch, kind of a three-dimensional form of hockey/basketball played on broomsticks, central to the story (another reminder that this is an updated British schooldays adventure).

It's not the only piece of genius: readers will recall the life-size chess game with deadly pieces, the room of flying keys, the forest where a loathsome creature threatens Harry but is scared away by another mythical, computer-rendered beast. Then there's the gift from Harry's dying father ...

Throw in a three-headed dog and a two-faced being who drinks unicorn blood and you might think it's a bit too scary for the younger ones. Well, not really. Just watch them line up when Part 2 - The Chamber Of Secrets - comes out around Christmas, with the same cast, plus Kenneth Branagh.

Right, that's the movie, which is also disc 1 of the DVD. Disc 2 is something else and a lot more besides. It's designed to take you on an adventure where you can discover a secret at the heart of the DVD. Features include:

• Self Guided Tours A tour of Hogwarts that allows you to explore various rooms between the disc's guided highlights.

• Diagon Alley You must complete this section or other features of the DVD won't be available. To get in, you have to remember the sequence in which the rocks in the wall are pushed in the movie. Then you have to get money from Gringott's bank, the right wand from Ollivander's emporium, then visit Eeylops' owl shop.

• Library Some of the books offer clues you'll need later; others will tell you about the characters in Hogwarts.

• Hogwarts Grounds First catch your Golden Snitch using your remote, then tour Hagrid's hut and learn the rules of Quidditch.

• Interviews 16-minute feature.

• Sorting Hat Guide to the four Hogwarts houses.

• Classrooms You can't come in here until you've completed Diagon Alley, then you have to sit a potions test.

If you manage to get through the game, and we're not going to give the secret away, you'll be rewarded with a gallery of seven deleted scenes from the movie.

The disc also contains several DVD-Rom features which are essentially access to the website.

Rental video, DVD: Out now

- NZ Herald

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