Harry Potter: Hogwarts, Hogwash and Hype

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone | Celebs Turn Out Before Screening | George Harrison, Ringo Starr

Harry Potter: Hogwarts, Hogwash and Hype

So here it is, the big release of fall 2001. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, highly anticipated and wanted to be loved by so many children. The movie opens Friday, but last night New Yorkers got to see it for the first time at a Warner Bros. non-premiere premiere which included glimpses of the cast and appearances by many celebrities with their own children.

Warner Bros., desperate for a real grand-slam home-run-type hit, is up to their eyeballs and trying to market this thing. Not since the first Batman movie has the studio really made an effort to put a holiday release into the minds of anyone who might care to see it. Merchandise is everywhere, and so is rambling hype. Last night Katie Couric hosted an embarrassing one-hour special on NBC that could only be construed as advertorial. It actually featured "our exclusive, first-time-ever interview with the man who would be Harry Potter, actor Daniel Radcliffe." 

I mean, come on. The kid is 12. 

So what's the bottom line here? Is Harry Potter any good? Could it be at this point? The answer is, it's hard to say. 

As directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), Harry Potter is a children's movie, and it is a long children's movie. Regardless of whether adults enjoyed the books, the screen version is populated by children, focused on children and devised for children. Three children are at the center of the story, and there's no way around that. If you didn't know it was released by Warners, you'd think Harry Potter was a Disney film. 

For this adult, and for the many around me who had grinning children with them, the movie was tedious. Columbus is no Scorsese, and his inability to make magic beyond commercial entertainment is glaring here. Indeed, even the print we saw looked flat and grainy, a little unfocused and not as rich as the production details seemed to indicate. 

In essence, this is a Steven Spielberg movie without Steven Spielberg. It's a shake-and-bake combo of Oliver Twist, E.T., The Wizard of Oz, Young Sherlock Holmes and Star Wars. Harry Potter entices the readers of the book, no doubt, because they finally get to see all their favorite scenes brought to life. But the movie never goes beyond that. There's none of Spielberg's wit or warmth, and no idea of where to take things other than to depict what the book describes. 

Several times scenes promise to be vibrant. I'm thinking here of Harry and friends learning to fly on their brooms; of a dining hall filmed under swirling pumpkin lanterns; of the boat ride that reveals magical Hogwarts to the kids; of Harry putting on his invisibility cloak for the first time. These should be big moments, but they're not. They're delivered in the same monotone as the rest of the movie, off the cuff, matter of fact and without the necessary drama. When Harry puts on the cloak, especially, it was a letdown. He doesn't even giggle. He just accepts his invisibility and takes off on yet another adventure.

Making matters worse was the score by John Williams, which was so imitative of his Star Wars music — and so insistent on being played as a fanfare every two minutes — that you couldn't help but make the comparison to the earlier movie. 

Am I a grinch who wouldn't like Harry Potter anyway? I don't think so. The movie clocks in at 2-and-a-half hours. At the conclusion I asked a bunch of kids what they thought, and the conclusion was they were not satisfied. They wanted more, but they didn't know what exactly. The actor who played Harry, Dan Radcliffe, did not seem to have had a tremendous effect on anyone. Indeed, he is one of the least animated child actors I've ever seen on screen. His face seems laminated in one expression. Emma Watson (Hermione) was much better and seemed to be overcompensating for the stiffness of the boys around her.

Let's face it, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is going to make zillions at the box office. It has a record pre-sale. The books are going to help it break records for the first ten days. The movie will save poor, beleaguered Warner Bros. But personally, I'd rather look at Spielberg's Warners release this year, AI: Artificial Intelligence. It didn't work, but it aspired to something. Harry Potter's only desire is to rake in the money, and it will. 

Star Power Turns Out for Harry Potter 

Before the Harry Potter screening, New York stars and their kids came pouring into the Ziegfeld. 

Among them: Robin and Marsha Williams, with kids Cody and Zelda; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, with a bunch of kids and friends; Amy Irving with son Max Spielberg (husband director Bruno Barreto was out of the country, she reported); Sigourney Weaver with her family; Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon et al; Griffin Dunne with his charming daughter by ex-wife actress Carey Lowell; and Chevy Chase with his family. 

A couple of hours before the screening, famed Star Wars, Jaws and Chocolat producer David Brown turned up with novelist Avery Corman (Kramer vs. Kramer) and his wife Judy. Brown said he was doing duty for wife Helen Gurley Brown, and all three wanted to pick up their tickets early so they could go get something to eat. As usual with the latest wave of overzealous security people, the identities of these show biz veterans had to be explained several times before they were allowed to approach the will call table. I guess they posed some kind of security threat. 

Beatles: Ringo Didn't Visit George in Hospital  

Contrary to widely reported rumors of last week, Ringo Starr did not visit his lifelong friend George Harrison at Staten Island University Hospital. It was reported that Harrison received cancer treatment at S.I. in a last-ditch effort to save his life. 

A source close to Ringo tells me that the drummer didn't go out to see Harrison. But the source also says his understanding is that "things don't look too good. George is in bad shape."

I hope George Harrison understands that reports about his health are not being done as tabloid fodder. I think most people feel the same way I do — we love the Beatles, we love George, and we are terrified for him. We certainly don't want to lose him. George, you're in our prayers. 

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