Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Confessions of a Harry Potter virgin: The Philosopher's Stone, or Flight of the Gryffindor

As Bilbo said, I have put this off for far too long, but I'm at a stage to start finally. So, as promised, a Harry Potter newbie's thoughts on the world of Potter and friends.

So, we kick off with an Owl. Quite apt really. 

The owl is in the middle of leafy suburbia, and heralds the arrival of a biker from hell. Well, Hogwarts. Hagrid is bringing baby Harry to his Aunt and Uncle, who are really quite monstrous. They keep him in a cupboard under the stairs to be mistreated by their spoilt little boy, who is exactly the sort of precocious little dick who you'd quite happily slap silly (more of them later).

So Harry finds funny things happening to him, before letters start arriving marked Hogwarts. His Uncle Monty... No, sorry, Vernon (Richard Griffiths is deliciously wicked here) does everything possible to stop Harry getting his letter, taking the family off to a tiny rocky island (little explanation here, I'm guessing the book does more).

Back comes Hagrid, who has the most delicious turn of phrase and the greatest use of the word 'Codswallop'. He's also a bit of a liability, but more on that later. Hagrid scares the family silly, and tells Harry about his past, before whisking him off to London. 

So far it seems like a series of vignettes. Others have said it's very faithful to the book, and possibly it's turned into more of a series of sketches of some of the key scenes as an intro. It starts to fall together a little more once Harry's with Hagrid. He heads into the murkiest pub in the history of film, to step through a magic wall and into a street right out of Dickens to buy all the magic essentials. A lovely cameo by John Hurt sees Harry find his wand, and is told it's the twin of Voldemort's (I thought he should not be named?)

Tooled up and ready to go, Harry heads to a pre-renovation St Pancras to find platform 9 3/4 and the train to Hogwarts where he meets ginger lad Ron Weasley. What I hadn't realised before starting was that everyone already knows Harry, and he's the famous kid around wizard world. It's a nice touch that he knows nothing about this place and already has all these ludicrous expectations on his shoulders, nicely illustrated in the scene where Snape mockingly questions him in front of a room of sniggering students and an 'oh Miss I know the answer so much my arm's going to come off' Hermione Granger.

The world of Hogwarts is beautifully realised, and we get some talking head exposition from goody two shoes Granger and meet the four houses, of whom I'm guessing we really only need to worry about Gryffyndor, home to Harry, Ron and Hermione (yay!) and nasty Slytherin (BOO!) home to another precocious little shit, Lucius Malfoy.

We learn dastardly things are afoot, and our trio of heroes meet a three headed dog called Fluffy, who guards the Philosopher's Stone, a source of Ancient Magic (capitalised on purpose). They also inadvertently stumble upon a wandering troll, who Ron manages to defeat in an act of sheer coolness that belies his stumbling efforts in classes.

Then Quidditch. Which in the grand tradition of sport is almost completely incomprehensible. Lucky then that the vast majority of people on the field are completely redundant, all you need to do is catch the Golden Snitch to win. Kind of like the yellow marble in Hungry Hungry Hippos. Of course Harry catches the Snitch, by falling off his broomstick and swallowing it. Is that in the rules? Given the lengths someone was going to make him lose, you'd expect a steward's enquiry at the very least...

Darstardly things are afoot and it seems Professor Snape (Alan Rickman channelling Hans Gruber in full-on sneer mode) is behind it all. There's also a mirror where Harry whiles away his hours looking at his dead parents. Dumbledore admonishes him saying it's possible to get addicted to the mirror. Well, at least it's healthier than online porn, or writing slash about Dumbledore and Hagrid. What?

So, after snitching little shit Malfoy gets them into trouble, our pals have to head into the haunted forest where Harry is almost attacked by a ringwraith. No, sorry, Voldemort, who is drinking unicorn blood. As you do. Then Hagrid, who is the worst spy in the world, reveals he's given away the secret of how to get to the Philosopher's Stone to a bloke in the pub. Nice one Hagrid.

So we conclude. Slytherin win the house competition, our heroes have lost. But wait. In a quite flagrant case of Deus Ex Dumbledoria, the head wizard awards just enough points that Gryffindor scrape a narrow victory. 

Now... Isn't this all a little too neat? Now, I'm not saying it was a conspiracy, but it seems that Dumbledore was at the heart of this all. And all of a sudden his favourite house have just enough points to allow them to win. So. Isn't this whole Philosopher's Stone, Voldemort business just an elaborate ruse so that Gryffindor win the house competition?

More to come...