In typical fashion for The Legionnaire, I reviewed the last film in the Harry Potter series first. Continuing that trend, I will probably end up releasing one for each installment in the franchise in the haphazard style that has become somewhat of a hallmark for my cherished blog. If you read my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), you may remember the New Year’s Eve tradition that I usually follow with my best friend and his family. I also mentioned how we seldom follow the movies in sequence of their release. We have followed all manner of systems for choosing which to watch, but the one constant is randomness. Believe it or not, I am actually not somebody who enjoys randomness, at least not in my personal life. It is funny in movies and television shows, but I try to stick to a schedule with the things I do. This applies to The Legionnaire in how I release a new review every day, even if they are not always in order.
When I reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I approached it thematically instead of following my tried-and-true formula. In subsequent recountings of other sequels, I will probably buck my trend again. Today, since I am discussing the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), I think I will return to my comfort zone. We float down from the sky to the most common of London suburbs with an oddly dressed group of people. They are led by Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). They are approaching one of the houses, which looks the same as the rest, and one of his companions, who changes from a cat to a human, has doubts. This is fellow Hogwart’s professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and her concerns pertain to a very special boy who is about to arrive. This is an infant Harry Potter, and he is being delivered by the school’s half giant/half human gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). This is Professor McGonagall’s first worry. Her second is the family chosen by Professor Dumbledore to watch over “the boy who lived,” a title earned by Harry surviving an attack by the most powerful dark wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort (Richard Bremmer). Professor Dumbledore remains steadfast. The family they leave Harry with are the Dursleys, muggles or non-magic folk, and they are the only kin he has left. Lord Voldemort had killed Harry’s parents, and Professor Dumbledore feels that the boy should have a humble upbringing because when he comes of age and steps into the wizarding world, his fame will precede him. Unfortunately for Harry, the Dursleys take the humbling part a little too seriously. Now that he (Daniel Radcliffe) is eleven, it is time for him to attend Hogwart’s. However, the Dursleys had hidden his background from him, treating him as a servant and giving him a room under the stairs in which to sleep. When letters announcing Harry’s acceptance into the school begin arriving, Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) will not let his nephew have one. Because this is magic, their home soon becomes flooded with letters, prompting Uncle Vernon to take them to a deserted island where he believes the mail cannot reach him. They are found by Hagrid, who is the first to announce that Harry is a wizard. Hagrid then takes Harry to the hidden parts of London where other magical folk reside in order to prepare for his first year at Hogwart’s. It is when he gets to Diagon Alley and sees the awe with which people look at him, including knowing his name, that Harry begins to realize the extent of what had been kept from him. On the train to the school, supplies in hand, Harry meets his first two friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Shortly after they get to school, he also makes his first enemy, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Luckily, the school’s Sorting Hat (voiced by Leslie Phillips) puts Harry in the same house, Gryffindor, with Hermione and Ron. As he begins to settle into his classes, earning an unheard of honor for a first year student by securing a spot on the house quidditch team, rumors begin to spread of a mysterious object at the school. Harry had seen Hagrid with it in Diagon Alley. When Harry and his friends press the gamekeeper, the half giant lets slip that it is the Sorcerer’s Stone. It is an object that can turn metal to gold, and produce an immortality elixir. They make a logic leap that it could be used to bring back “He Who Must Not Be Named,” what everyone calls Lord Voldemort. They also suspect that the taciturn potions professor, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), is trying to find a way to obtain it. When our three friends accidentally stumble upon the entrance to where the stone is being kept, they are able once again to get Hagrid to tell how to get past the first part. Because of Harry’s history with Lord Voldemort, they take it upon themselves to try and find it before Snape. Hermione and Ron do their part to get Harry into the chamber. There, Harry comes face to back of head with the seemingly timid Professor Quirinus Quirrell (Ian Hart). Professor Quirrell has been housing Lord Voldemort’s spirit, which is given face on the opposite Professor Quirrell’s own visage. Harry, though, is key to obtaining the stone, not wanting to use it for himself. It then appears in his pocket, prompting Professor Quirrell to attack Harry. When the professor touches Harry, a spell protecting him turns his assailant to ash and Lord Voldemort’s spirit flees. Harry returns to the school, his exploits becoming the stuff of legend. It is now the end of the school year, and time for Harry to return to the Dursleys, thought only until next fall.
Admittedly, there was a lot of glossing going on in that summation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I did so because, as the first in a series, it does most of the work of setting up the characters. Harry is the main character, the newcomer to a world with which everyone else in it is familiar. With fantasy or science fiction stories, it helps to have that fresh faced protagonist in order for the audience to experience everything through his eyes. This way, there is a reason for things to be explained. As for the rest, there is Hermione, of muggle parents, who is the brightest and most talented of them all. Finally, there is Ron, the bumbling side-kick with a heart of gold. The entire series, with Harry is the focus, revolves around these three. Hence, in subsequent reviews, I hope you refer back to this edition if you need help understanding the players.
The one thing that becomes evident about Harry Potter in Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone is that not only is he a neophyte in the wizarding world, but his upbringing was well chosen by Professor Dumbledore. Granted, Harry might not have seen the wisdom while dealing with what some might call child abuse. Then again, what pre-teen has ever been able to see the forest for the trees? Nonetheless, the alternative would have been for Harry to grow up aware of his importance, which could have led to a vain boy entering Hogwart’s. Humbleness is a virtue, and Harry has it in spades. I mean this in terms of Faith. Humility is not only a recognition of one’s lowliness, but it is also an acknowledgement of the gifts you do possess. Importantly, the Church calls these gifts from God. There are many scenes that illustrate this perfectly, but the one I will discuss here is when Harry discovers the fortune his parents left to him. He had never seen so many riches, and you can tell he hardly knows what to do with it. Taking some coins with him for the trip to Hogwart’s, instead of using it for himself, he buys the entire cartload of sweets for himself and Ron. A more prideful person might look at the hapless Ron and think the redhead not worthy of Harry’s companionship. Instead, Harry sees the simple sandwich that Ron has packed, and shares his riches without hesitation. Harry recognizes his own lowliness in Ron, but is willing to share his gifts with a kindred spirit.
Moments like that are why Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and its sequels, are acceptable to Catholic audiences. They deal with witchcraft, which is a big no-no for Catholics because it seeks to contravene God’s power. Yet, Harry behaves in such a way as to fit with many of the ideals we hold dear. It makes it more of a Catholic story than some of the supposedly purposefully Catholic films I have seen.