Still, Harry Potter's tale is worth telling in any medium, and youngsters who have already worn out their new “Shrek” DVDs are hardly likely to quibble about repetitiveness. And even if we've seen it all before in our minds' eyes, it is still impressive to watch as the mini-mythology is brought to life with such skill and heart.
Eleven-year-old Harry Potter (a winsomely down-to-earth Danielle Radcliffe), an orphan who has lived with his cruel aunt and uncle and their obnoxious, overindulged son since infancy, is resigned to his fate as the family's distaff Cinderella. But as in that fable, here too a fairygodperson intervenes to set things right. In this case, it's a motorcycle-riding Giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who informs Harry of his occult parentage and whisks him off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry, agog at his new surroundings, quickly befriends fellow first-year students Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), who's a flame-haired goof-off but a true-blue friend, and Hermione (Emma Watson), an affable but overachieving know-it-all whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Dark Arts might incite the resentment of her classmates but proves to save the day on more than one occasion. Together, they must combat treacherous teachers, resurrected warlocks, homicidal trolls, multi-headed beasts and, worst of all, the machinations of snotty fellow pupil Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his goon pals Crabbe and Goyle--all while striving to perfect their transfiguration, levitation and hexing skills to maintain decent GPAs, Hogwarts-style.
The abundant advance press has accustomed those even peripherally interested in the project to the live-action embodiments of the protagonists, so the initial resistance to anyone trying to portray the well-known and beloved characters should have already dissipated. All involved acquit themselves impressively, though many of the dramatis personae inevitably receive short shrift. The global familiarity of the book brings with it the highest order of scrutiny, making the edits all the more palpable. Bulging at the seams as it is to fit into its two-and-a-half-hour running time while hitting all the major marks, it's probably for the best that the backstories of the likes of Neville Longbottom and Nearly Headless Nick fell by the wayside. Besides, it's all the more material for the DVD--which will be worn out just in time for the bow of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Steve Kloves. Produced by David Heyman. A Warner Bros. release. Fantasy. Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language. Running time: 151 min