That’s a title that’s probably going to attract a crowd here! (LOL) It’s certainly a subject that many Christians feel strongly about – myself included.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), rated PG for supernatural themes
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), rated PG for frightening fantasy scenes, medium level violence
Those of course are the Australian ratings; in the United States, the ratings are:
- The Philosopher’s Stone – PG for some scary moments and mild language
- The Chamber of Secrets – PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language
As usual, I’ll give the movies’ trailers (and a clip each) at the end.
And as usual, I offer the following disclaimer, just to be safe:
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED AT OWN RISK.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Whatever your opinion on Harry Potter, it’s hard to deny the incredible cultural phenomenon that it has been. 7 wildly successful books, turned into 8 wildly successful movies – plus two prequel spin-offs, with 3 more on the way – almost all widely acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. Despite being raised to hate HP, I gotta admit – this movie – erroneously called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US – is damn near perfect!
11-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), an orphan, has been raised by his horrible Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and bullied by his horribly spoiled cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Then one day – after a mysterious, magical incident at a zoo – a mysterious letter is delivered by an owl, a letter from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Vernon and Petunia – who seem to know more than they let on – refuse to let him read it, and destroy it. When many more letters keep arriving – even after boarding up the letter box – Vernon moves them to an island, where the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) personally delivers Harry’s invitation, revealing that Harry is a wizard like his parents (who were murdered by the Dark Lord Voldemort, contrary to the Uncle and Aunt’s story that they died in a car crash), and gives Harry the option of coming to Hogwarts and learn to control & use his power – or stay with with the Dursleys. Harry chooses the former.
At the school, Harry makes friends with fellow students Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and also enemies – the bully Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and the teacher Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). However, he and his friends soon find foul play afoot, something related to legendary object the Philosopher’s Stone, created by Nicholas Flammel. Who at Hogwarts can be trusted?
First of all, can I rant about the title? Yes, I get that Sorcerer’s Stone was considered a more “catchy” title in America than Philosopher’s Stone, but the movie revolves around the Philosopher’s Stone, a real-life legendary object, created by a real-life legendary person, Nicholas Flammel (who is mentioned in the movie), who in the book/movie and reality was an alchemist, but not a sorcerer.
OK, title quibbles aside, Philosopher’s Stone is a surprisingly, great, charming – and arguably perfect – fantasy film. For one, this (alongside the second film) feels the most magical of the Harry Potter movies; it has a charm and delight and magical feel to it, and is kinda cozy to watch.
Part of this is due to John Williams’ incredible music score. (Yes, Williams – I was rather surprised when I realised it was him.) His music for this film is a combination of playful and mysterious – it sounds like fantasy music – and helps give the film its’ magical air.
And then there’s the worldbuilding, the way the film – told from the point of view of a kid who grew up in our Muggle world – introduces us to the magical and mysterious Wizarding World bit by bit, and while one gets the overall picture of the world the film inhabits, it still leaves an air of mystery about it. It certainly left me wanting to know more about this fantasy world; in fact, the worldbuilding/showing the fantasy universe alone is half the fun and charm of the movie – from Platform 9 3/4 to Diagon Alley to the Sorting Hat to the moving staircases to the living portraits to Quidditch and all things broomsticks to the Philosopher’s Stone itself – and if it’d been devoted wholly to that without much plot, I gain the impression I’d still have thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a rare film indeed that can do that; quite a bit of imagination went into delivering us this delight.
And the story and mystery itself were interesting and enjoyable, with a typical but nonetheless surprising twist. It’s fun watching the 3 main kids trying to work it out. It’s also at times rather exciting & tense.
While the special effects of any movie from 20 years ago (or in this case, 19) will be at least partly dated, the effects for Philosopher’s Stone have by and large stood the test of time.
And the cast is practically perfect, too; Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson ultimately turned out to be the perfect casting choices for Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, the lead trio. They have a great chemistry, and go perfectly together on-screen. They also have a great sense of humour (particularly between Ron and Hermione).
Richard Harris is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT as Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster at Hogwarts, and this is EASILY his best performance (which says a lot – considering what a great actor he is, and how many great roles he’s played). I know many prefer Michael Gambon – who took over the role in the 3rd movie – but I prefer Harris.
Maggie Smith was similarly perfectly cast as Professor Minerva McGonagall, one of Hogwarts’ teachers, who was nice to watch.
Alan Rickman is always excellent, and no less to than as Professor Severus Snape. Having seen not only this film, but all its sequels (and prequels), and having seen Snape’s entire character arc, I can categorically state that NO-ONE could’ve played Snape better than Rickman! He has a great sinister air about him, and is an interestingly grey character.
I also rather liked Ian Hart as Professor Quirinus Quirrell, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
And Tom Felton was a good choice for the bully Draco Malfoy, from a wealthy pureblood family.
Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw and Harry Melling were perfectly cast as Harry’s abusive relatives Vernon, Petunia and Dudley Dursley. Somewhat stereotyped, but they somehow contribute to the overall cosy feel of the film.
As one would expect for an adaption of a fantasy novel by a Christian author (yes, despite silly claims, J.K. Rowling is indeed a Christian and NOT an occultist), there are some Christian themes and imagery in the film, although I won’t go too much into it here, and there’s certainly not as much as in, say, The Chronicles of Narnia.
And no, despite some claims, Harry Potter is not occultic, and it doesn’t have (real) witchcraft either: that is, nothing resembling actual witchcraft, occultism, and such forbidden practices. It is fantasy – CHRISTIAN fantasy in the vein of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings (and more overt than LOTR, I might add) – fun fantasy with nothing realistic. (And no, Rowling wasn’t “possessed” when she wrote the books, they don’t contain the names of demons, AND THERE ARE NO REAL SPELLS OR ANYTHING RESEMBLING THEM. It’s literally full of known-to-be-silly stereotypes such as medieval robes, pointy hats, riding on brooms, and using quasi-Latin to make a piece of wood do something – all conspiring to make it impossible to take it seriously, let alone lead someone into witchcraft (which, FYI, hasn’t happened, despite the doomsday predictions 20 years ago; at least, not in any real numbers). And yes, despite being 2020, one sadly STILL has to explain these obvious facts. OH, YES: and despite another common – and puzzling – claim by people who clearly haven’t read or watched – or who refuse to properly read or watch – the books and movies, Harry Potter has a clear delineation between good and evil. Again, the fact that that needs explaining says A LOT.)
(Note: that doesn’t change the fact that whether or not these movies/books are good and/or suitable for children is entirely a matter of personal opinion. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions; I’m just presenting mine.)
Actually, in many ways, the premise of Harry Potter is basically the same as that of X-Men – genetic, hereditary abilities to perform superhuman feats, which in the X-Men universe is called Mutations, and in the Wizarding World is referred to as magic. (Yes, Wizards and Witches use wands to channel their abilities, but the premise is still very similar. It’s effectively sci-fi disguised as fantasy.)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a near-perfect fantasy movie, and a perfect start to the Harry Potter story arc – and the overall Wizarding World.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
After watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I had one worry going into the second film: that the original was so good, nothing else in the series could compare to it. Thankfully, I was wrong: despite being darker and scarier, it not only contains the already-nearly-perfect original’s magic and charm, it actually manages to exceed it!
A year after the events of Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is all set to return to Hogwarts after spending summer with the Dursleys. However, puzzlingly, he hasn’t received any letters from his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Gint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). He then encounters a House Elf named Dobby (Toby Jones), who warns him that he will be in great danger if he returns to Hogwarts – and inadvertedly reveals that he interecepted all of Harry’s mail. Dobby successfully pulls a magic trick or two that result in Harry’s Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) locking Harry up, and forbidding him to attend Hogwarts. However, Ron and his twin brothers – Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps) – rescue Harry in their flying car.
In Diagon Alley, they discover that Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) is to be their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – and also run into Draco Malfoy’s sinister father Lucius (Jason Isaacs). Then Harry and Ron are blocked from reaching Platform 9 3/4, and must get there in Ron’s flying car (which is wrecked while landing). At Hogwarts, all seems well – until Harry starts hearing voices, writing starts appearing in blood, and people and animals randomly begin petrifying. It seems the legendary Chamber of Secrets – long regarded as a myth – is not only real, but opened.
Chamber of Secrets brings back everything that made Philosopher’s Stone so great: great charm, a magical feel, that perfect John Williams music score, a great cast, and great cinematography. In fact, if arguably improves upon these things!
For one thing, I really liked the plot and its execution. It’s a darker, more mysterious film – essentially a fantasy mystery thriller – with a more interesting plot, greater excitement, several twists and turns, etc, etc. I was thoroughly hooked watching Harry, Ron and Hermione trying to unravel the clues and find out the truth – while Harry is accused of being behind it all. It’s also somewhat scarier, which surprisingly is a good thing – it helps the film, and I generally wasn’t bothered; well, except for those giant spiders… *shivers*
And then there’s the designs – especially of the Chamber of Secrets itself. Quite well done.
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Gint are even better than in the first movie as our main trio – Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
Richard Harris is once again absolutely perfect as Professor Dumbledore, as is Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape.
Robbie Coltrane is once again excellent as Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant groundskeeper at Hogwarts.
The new actors, however, stand out: Kenneth Branagh is quite good as Hogwarts’ new, somewhat narcissistic teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, who fancies himself as a celebrity.
I was rather pleasantly surprised by the performance of Robert Hardy – whom I mainly remembered as the star of All Creatures Great and Small – as Cornelius Fudge, the British Minister for Magic.
But the real prize goes to Jason Isaacs, who is brilliant – not to mention brilliantly sinister – as Lucius Malfoy, a former Death Eater and Draco’s father. He’s one of my favourite actors in this film.
I also rather liked Julie Walters as Ron’s mother Molly Weasley, a kind soul; I also rather liked Mark Williams as her husband – Ron’s father – Arthur. And let’s not forget Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley! (An important character.)
Oh, and how could I forget – I LOVE the character of Moaning Myrtle, introduced in this movie, excellently played by Shirley Henderson; she plays a bigger part than you’d expect.
I can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned it, but Chamber of Secrets is even more exciting than Philosopher’s Stone – particularly the climax, which appears to have inspired the climax of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a practically perfect sequel to a practically perfect original, improving on its predecessor and providing an all-round fun, exciting and entertaining fantasy experience.
It’s never a boring year at Hogwarts!
The Philosopher’s Stone trailer:
The Chamber of Secrets trailer:
A Philosopher’s Stone clip:
A Chamber of Secrets clip:
[What do you think of these films? Be sure to let me know in the comments! Also, send me your review for any movie, and I’ll post it on Blockbusters Reviewed.]