‘Harry Potter’ is a story that will live through at least a few generations, and November 14th, 2021 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first film. I’ve grappled with my relationship with this story, this franchise, it’s creator, and the controversies prevalent for a few heavy years for ‘Potter’ fans, building a barrier to the fantasy that will, “always be there to welcome you home.” (-J.K. Rowling, 2011). In 2001, This world felt like it was just opening up, and now, on 4K Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range, I began to step back into this fantasy to see whether it lives beyond it’s real-world problems, and explore how we might, as consumers, change the way we think about sharing stories that matter to us.
We are introduced to this world with Harry. There are minimal supernatural elements (de-luminating streetlights, a “flying” motorbike, vanishing glass, a talking CGI snake) as Harry and the viewer are shown just enough to draw curiosity or warn those not interested what they’re about to explore. Then Harry steps through a brick wall into Diagon Alley, and we dive full force into the world Rowling built. This is the story of Harry learning who he is, what he really can call “home,” and how he leans he will have to grow to become something, “great.”
Twenty years on, in the highest aspect ratio viewable to the most immersive sound presentable on home video, sure, there are some visible seams. A few color grading choices have been made to adjust skin tones and outdoor settings (the Forbidden Forrest felt almost purple in hue at times), but decisions to supply digital film grain for sequences including heavily CGI figures like the Halloween troll and exterior shots of Hogwarts kept me suspending disbelief enough to condone mentally that the elaborate physical set designs occupied the same space. There’s a “trapped” quality, for lack of a better term, to some scenes indicating the upgrade was subject to the film stock and encoded audio from early printings (Ex. Film grain/special effects when Harry meets Ron and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express, audio when fighting troll (- “do something!?” -“Like What!?”- “Anything!”) sounds manipulated).
Chris Columbus and cinematographer, John Seale, used camerawork to pull our eyes to the level of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. We look from their perspective, low angled on all adults, and in front of set-pieces that loom large. It holds up surprisingly well, especially in an age where motion capture was not the predominant tool for animating faces.
The protagonist trio, at the time, could barely understand the onslaught of talent with which they engage in every supporting actor throughout. The child actors seem competent in playing their literary counterparts (as if they’d done their homework), though each young actor, particularly Tom Felton and Emma Watson, have moments to stand out. Daniel Radcliffe took on a literal task of a lifetime and surprisingly there are characteristics unique to his performance (possibly more in the writing) that carry through to his later performances. He brings a balance of innocence and readiness to face challenges that makes him feel genuinely heroic.
The first actor seen is the late Richard Harris. His performance is so sensitive to the child actors that one can understand how he would reach the intended audience of the film in a strong manner (There will be more to say with his performance in particular in ‘Chamber of Secrets’). In pleasant contrast with this idea is the late Alan Rickman, who gives equal parts sincerity and severity that reflects the professional, grounded approach almost every actor took for this role. Whether it be from direction, the source material from which to draw, or experience, the entire cast seemed to be presented as more shallow, readily identifiable characters with distinct iconography, yet each one gave reason to believe there was more to their character that lived off of the screen.
“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone” is a movie directed at eleven-year-olds (those just old enough to get their own acceptance letter to Hogwarts). In the words of a colleague and close friend, it’s a story about someone who feels that there’s something not quite right about themselves, discovers they’re not alone, and finds a new home. Whatever J.K. Rowling believes, she has inadvertently provided a story (co-writing every screenplay including the yet-to-be-released “Fantastic Beasts” sequels) to help children discover themselves. The adventures feature themes that encourage the viewers to grow as leaders, creators and thinkers, and, though I wouldn’t rate this movie out of any ranking system, I will say it is an imaginative, digestible, heart-warming story for its target audience. If readers of this article can explore lending copies, buying second-hand (assuming not from an illegal vendor), and sharing with those who may be interested (streaming parties, etc.), The movie has never looked better than on 4K Ultra HD, and even twenty years later, this chapter stands on it’s own as an introduction to a (literally) magical world.
(July 11th, 2021 will mark the ten year-anniversary of the U.S. theatrical release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt2.” If you’re still grappling with your relationship to this fandom, whether it be due to Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, or J.K. Rowling herself, I welcome you to explore many supportive sources of information online (Particularly Lindsay Ellis’ commentary on “death of the author” and Ms. Rowling’s platform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NViZYL-U8s0)
This series is intended to review the Harry Potter movies as pieces resulting from collaborations between artists and commercial stakeholders. )