Monday, 18 July 2011

Sunday Monday Openings: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone

I haven’t seen the final instalment of the Harry Potter saga yet, but I can’t deny that I’m feeling a little misty about the end of the series. Oftentimes I find it difficult to encapsulate precisely why I go crazy with anticipation for the cinematic versions of the Potter series, I’ve wholeheartedly loved only one of the instalments (Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban) and I know the books so well I’m almost always miffed about something that isn’t translated well to the screen. Still, I’m a quasi-fanboy when it comes to the films. So, now’s as good a time as any to take a look at one of the opening...and what better than the first one?
The second instalment is my least favourite of the series, but I don’t know why people always harp on Columbus for the first film of the series. For me, it encapsulates all that juvenile enchantment that you’d hope for.
Isn’t that a bit of a defining shot? Any Potter aficionado knows what Privet Drive entails. I like that this scene isn’t as developed in the novel, it marks the fact that cinema and literature are different and opening in the past is a fine decision for the film.

The opening is much more dark and broody than I remembered.

And then that legendary figure appears.

I must admit that, watching this with my nephew last week I got a whole lot more teary than I anticipated (or cared to admit). I always do feel a little sad when I see anything with Richard Harris, though. I’ll always appreciate what Michael Gambon brought to the series (especially in the sixth instalment) but Richard Harris was just a perfect Dumbledore.

Keep an eye on that cat.
It’s been so long since I saw this film in particular that I didn’t even remember this particular sequence. It comes off as a bit silly considering Dumbledore could just give the street instant blackout, but who am I to question his grace? And, the music playing as it all ensues is lovely (I’ve always felt the series’ had a woefully underrated score).

And the cat begins to purr.

Professor Dumbledore: “I should have known that you would be here, McGonagall”
This transformation is my favourite part of the opening. It’s a bit overwrought but it’s so in keeping with the first book of the series, we’re now coming to terms with the magic and whatnot so the build-up works incredibly.
Perfect. It reminds me of later in the film when Ron and Harry are late to Transfiguration Classes and Professor McGonagall transforms before them, another great part of the film.

Professor McGonagall: “Good evening, Professor Dumbledore.”
And with that we have our first look at Maggie Smith. Regardless of other points of longevity, the Harry Potter series will go down in history for the expansive cast of actors. With the exception of Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, it’s as if any Briton who’s anybody has been in it. And, sure, Maggie can probably do all this in her sleep, but she's never NOT brilliant.

Professor McGonagall: “Are the rumours true, Albus?”

 Professor Dumbledore: “I’m afraid so; the good and the bad.”

Professor McGonagall: “And, the boy?”

Professor Dumbledore: “Hagrid is bringing him.”

Professor McGonagall: “Do you think it trust Hagrid with something as important as this?”

Professor Dumbledore: “Ah, professor. I would trust Hagrid with my life.”
I sort of love how unsubtle J.K. us with all the seeds planted in this first series. Dumbedlore's trust - check, Professor McGonagall's shrewdness - check, misguided hopes that Harry would be happy in Privet Drive - check...and so on. Fine, it's not grade A literature, and perhaps that's why the films aren't exactly grade A films, but they make me full of whimsy from time to time.

Columbus is a director who’s so in touch with childhood consciousness and everything about this seems devoted to evoking the child in us. That light coming towards us is very ET.

Enter Hagrid...

I never really give props to Robbie Coltrane, mostly because I’m neither here nor there on Hagrid as a character but he’s another example of how meticulously casted the entire series is.

Hagrid: “Professor Dumbledore, sir. Professor McGonagall.”

Professor Dumbledore: “No problems, I trust, Hagrid?”
 Hagrid: “No, sir. The little tyke fell asleep just as we were flying over Bristol.”

Hagrid: “I tried not to wake him.”

Hagrid: “There you go.”

That ever important bundle of joy.

Professor McGonagall: “Albus, do you really think it safe leaving him with these people? I’ve watched them all day. They’re the worse sort of Muggles imaginable.”
I love how Maggie says that line. And the Dursley's really are atrocious. Who can contest that fact?

Professor McGonagall: “They really are–”
Professor Dumbledore: “- the only family he has.”

Professor McGonagall: “This boy will be famous. There won’t be a child in our world who wouldn’t know his name”

Professor Dumbledore: “Exactly. He’s far better growing up from all of that.”
I do find that cut to Hagrid strange. I always remember Hagrid forging that deep bond with Harry until he was grown, so it does seem strange that he’s so broken up over giving him up to the Dursley’s. Of course, with all the things going on at the time – Lily and James’ death, especially – his sadness does make sense.

Professor Dumbledore: “..until he is ready.”
That second shot there is another nice moment in the opening.

Maggie does more with a second of screen time than some actors could do with an hour.

Just the expressions on Harris' face give you that feeling of wisdom, it's almost as if he doesn't have to act as Dumbedlore...he just has to exist.

Professor Dumbledore: “There, there Hagrid. It’s not really goodbye after all.”
With the end of the series upon that line takes on such a deeper profundity.

Professor Dumbledore: “Good luck, Harry Potter.”

This is incredibly random, but I wonder where that child is - he's probably about eleven/twelve now.

As much as I’ll admit the films are occasionally faulty, I love them dearly. And this is a great beginning to it.


Runs Like A Gay said...

Amazing, I'd completely forgotten about this scene too, strange. It's vital and clever (if none too well written) and really sets the tone for what's to come.

You're right about Columbus. The feel of his films does reflect the feel of the early books and firmly come across as kid's movies.

Luke said...

LOVED the opening shot. It perfectly played to all the kids (and teenagers) in the audience who wanted to lap up every bit of Potter magic visualized. Privet Drive. Love.