Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Starring:
  • The Warner Bros. War Machine
  • Every Available British Character Actor, Except for Tim Roth
  • The Magic of CGI!

 

Directed by Mrs. Doubtfire

"Ignore them, Danny. Your career doesn't necessarily have to end up like Mark Hammil's. "

This Generation's Wizard of Oz, If You Think CGI Possesses the Same Magic as Songs Like "Over the Rainbow."

I've never lifted the cover of a J.K. Rowling adventure, so I must admit being left out of the "Oh boy, here it comes!" moments of the rest of the English-reading world during the two-and-a-half hours of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I wish to comment on some reviewers' (Read: Roger Ebert's) insistence that this is the Wizard of Oz or Star Wars of Generation Y. And not the simpleton's argument that computer graphics dazzle rather than engage the audience—though it's true that the dusty, Mummy-esque villain of this movie is cotton candy compared to Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch. The movie seems to think its magic potion is source loyalty in its imagination of the spectacular ghouls and supernatural tricks, but the true elixir is that of a child hero who comes of age by trials of fire, flying, and all the other ordeals of growing up.

The difference between The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter can be read in the faces of their respective neophytes. Harry is swept through trials as if riding a conveyor belt through a haunted house, gawking at all the extraordinary things going on around him. Harry gets pushed through situations and stunts, but he's never really engaged in them. And without the struggle of the trials, without our hero ever really being put at stake, we feel nothing earned in the final triumph. And not to disparage Daniel Radcliff, for he is just following orders, but his only cued is to spread his eyelids when his cousin makes a mess of things or a terrible three-headed dog roars at him. Just think back to Judy Garland's motherly rage when Mrs.Gulch threatens Toto. Think of her knee-jerk scolding of the Wizard when he chastises the Cowardly Lion. Think of the virtuoso yearning in her performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The only virtuoso performance in Harry Potter is of the computer engineers who create some admittedly ravishing sets. But if you think that the brilliance of the film is the stunts themselves, then Tomb Raider, The Mummy Returns, and Harry Potter should fair equally on your movie scorecard.

I'm fully aware that The Wizard of Oz was a big-budget spectacle of its time, but that alone doesn't acquit Harry Potter. Harry's experience does not become ours because we make no emotional investment; Judy Garland pierces through all the bedazzling ornamentation to give us a stake in her performance. We empathize with the full range of emotions involved in Coming of Age (The joy of approaching the Emerald City; the despair of being denied her wish to go home; her coaching of the heroic team as they approach the castle.) Dorothy has undercurrents of anger befitting her orphan upbringing, and part of her maturity is her learned control. Despite Harry's supposedly Dickensian past, he seems to deal with every test with the same relaxed aplomb. There's no anger to channel and control, like Luke lashing into Darth Vader in The Return of the Jedi, then stopping right at the precipice. Emotionally, this Harry Potter is just as inert as the popcorn-munching masses watching him.

So perhaps Harry's experience does become the audience's. As he gawks in awe at the wonderful happenings around him, so do we. Unfortunately, if this is what we have in common, then we are no longer emerging heroes, but hapless patrons to the big-studio carnival game of spectacle. Our great hero stories define our values, and is this what we want to make of ourselves?

The Pitch:
Great Expectations
Plus
The Mummy Returns
Plus
The Wizard of Oz
Equals
 
1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
See It For:

Taking orders from Mr. Columbus, the kids try to make Macaulay Culkin's career reappear.