Everyone has that one big cultural touchstone they missed out on. I have friends who shrugged off Pokemon, or Star Wars, or the Marvel Movies. They just never got on the train with everybody else and now they feel weird and out of the loop whenever those things come up in conversation. My pop cultural blindspot is Harry Potter. But not for any longer. To celebrate the release of the next chapter in the Harry Potter canon, I have decided to go back and watch all the Harry Potter films, none of which I have seen before. Hopefully, by the end of this eight part series, I will go from someone who couldn’t give less of a shit about the students of Hogwarts to someone who loves them as much as everyone else seems to.
This week, I’m starting my journey with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yeah, I watched the British edition, so sue me).
So we start off the movie with me realizing that this thing is two and a half fucking hours long, Jesus Christ. No movie needs to be that long. But whatever, I’ll forgive it its first sin, let’s start up.
The actual film opens with Professors Dumbledore and McGoni-… Macgona… McGoneGirl arriving at a small suburban house in England. They meet Hagrid, who has brought a baby named Harry Potter who somehow survived his parents being murdered by the evil Lord Voldemort in an ultimate final battle that we as an audience arrived too late to see.
Dumbledore explains that they need to give the baby to his only surviving family, a group of literal child abusers named the Dursleys. Not sure why they couldn’t just leave the baby at an orphanage or a fire station and not, you know, with actual human monsters, but whatever. Maybe The Dursleys’s Morty-waves cancel out Harry’s special Rick-waves or something, there’s probably an explanation somewhere.
We flash forward somewhere around 11 years and Harry is a young boy living in a cupboard under the stairs that is definitely a safety hazard. The Dursley’s force him to cook them breakfast and constantly treat him as a slave.
God, it’s like if Norman Rockwell decided to only paint douchebags.
But before this can turn into “Harry Potter and the Riddle of Child Protective Services” we get some plot developments. The family is going to the zoo to celebrate Dudley (the son)’s birthday. They bring Harry at least, so that’s nice. While there, Harry talks to a snake briefly, which was pretty good foreshadowing to the little I remember from the later books. He also frees the snake and traps Dudley in the snake enclosure, which pisses of his adopted father, who drags Harry home angrily. There, they find a letter for Harry from someplace called Hogwarts.
Ok, so I know I know what Hogwarts is and I know YOU know what Hogwarts is but can we talk about that name for a second, devoid of all the pop culture knowledge we have attached to it?
Why would you name a school that? I know there’s probably an explanation somewhere, but you’d think you would pick a school name that wasn’t synonymous with a skin disease for pigs. Just seems a needlessly unpleasant association.
So Harry gets his letter from Pig Cysts University, but unfortunately before he can open it, The Dursleys snatch it from his hands and destroy it. More and more letters keep arriving until the amount of owls arriving to bring them reaches infestation levels. Like, national state of emergency amounts of owls.
The Dursleys and Harry flee to a hidden cabin far from all other people, where they stay until Hagrid arrives to pick up Harry. He explains to the boy the nature of the wizarding school and talks about how wizards are usually young people who are feared or misunderstood who secretly have great power and– holy shit, I get the mass appeal of Harry Potter now. Guys, it’s the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, but with wizards instead of mutants.
Harry Potter is the X-Men for millennials. It’s a power/social fantasy for people who feel alone and misunderstood. As someone who fell hard for the X-Men, I totally get why people like this. I mean, it’s also well written and full of strong characters, but that central premise totally makes sense to me now.
So Hagrid takes Harry away from the Dursleys and it’s off to Pork Tumors School for the Arts, or whatever it’s called. But first, he needs school supplies. School supplies which apparently can include “an owl, a toad, or a cat”. Jesus, Hogwarts must be a literal mess with all those filthy animals running around.
Harry and Hagrid go to Gringots bank and deal with some vaguely anti-semetic looking Goblins before finally picking up a wand and an owl. Hagrid finally drops Harry off at the train station and tells him to look for Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
He finds it via a bunch of people running full force into a wall and disappearing, which isn’t, you know, INCREDIBLY CONSPICUOUS or anything. Not like any Muggles would notice a thing like that by any chance.
On the train, we meet Ron (yay, Ron!) and get introduced to all the weird types of candy, including the chocolate frog. Why anyone would want their food to literally try and escape them, I will never know, but whatever. Also Hermione (yay, Hermione). And finally, almost a thousand words into this review (oops) we arrive at Hogwarts.
Immediately, Dumbledore instructs the new students on where they are not allowed to go, cementing this school as an actual deathtrap. No wonder there are so many ghosts hanging around. It comes time to sort the new students and so out comes the sorting hat. When it gets to Harry, it has some trouble deciding and even tries to talk him into Slytherin which seems like a dick move.
Like, I’ll accept that this wizard school has a designated dorm for evil people, but isn’t placing people in that dorm like cursing them to a life of evil forever? Or are one fourth of all wizards just naturally evil? Because that’s… ok, no I actually would have assumed a higher percentage.
But the hat puts Harry in Gryffindor (all of you knew that, don’t know why I needed to type it) and he is sent off with Ron and Hermione to their dorm. Now we learn that the staircases all move without warning, sometimes recklessly. Jesus, this school is a deathtrap wallpapered in lawsuits.
Oh, right, I guess I have to talk about Quidditch now.
Quidditch is a dumb bullshit sport.
Like, I came away actually liking this movie quite a bit and excited to watch the next one, but Quidditch is dumb. And I’m not even talking about real life collegiate Quidditch (although that is much, much stupider) I mean in-universe Quidditch. And why? Because of one single rule. The Seeker and the Golden Snitch.The idea that if one team finds the Golden Snitch and catches it, the entire game is over and said team immediately wins? That is some grade A unbalanced bullshit. So nothing else in the game matters? It could be Gryffindor 1, Slytherin 204 but if Harry catches that Snitch, game over, Gryffindor wins?
That’s like saying we’re gonna play basketball, but if the Center at any point in the game spots a shiny new dime on the court and picks it up, no matter the score, his team wins.
Quidditch needs a rebalancing update, that’s all I’m saying.
But never mind that because BATHROOM TROLL.
In defeating the Troll, Harry, Ron and Hermione become friends at last and start to explore the campus. This is helped by Harry receiving a green screen–I’m sorry, “invisibility” cloak, which he uses to investigate the whereabouts of the Philosopher’s Stone. The trio discovers a room with a lock on it, but Hermione unlocks it with magic and WHY EVEN LOCK THINGS IF PEOPLE CAN DO THAT?
In the locked room is a three headed monster dog, which sure is one way to go in terms of security. Harry believes that Professor Snape is A: evil and B: after the Philosopher’s Stone, which is hidden at the end of a bunch of trials and tests.
Around this point we also get our first glimpse of Voldemort, who is drinking the blood of a unicorn he murdered which is, as far as villain entrances go, a pretty metal one.
Fearing Snape is close to stealing the Philosopher’s Stone and bringing back Voldemort for good, Harry decides it’s time to break into the tower containing the Stone and stop him. After paralyzing Nevile Longbottom, he, Ron and Hermione seek into the forbidden zone and enter.
Who’s a good puppy?!
After musically sedating the cerberus and solar blasting some vines, they reach a room full of flying keys and Harry uses his bullshit Quidditch skills to catch the right one. By the way, this room has a lock that can’t be magic-ed open. Would have been nice to put in of those on the FIRST FRIGGIN’ DOOR but I guess hindsight is 20/20.
In the next room is a giant chess board missing three pieces. So does this mean that this room can only be solved with three people present? Even though Professor Quirrell (Don’t act surprised, you ALL knew who it was) apparently got through it by himself.
Whatever, Ron gets the shit kicked out of him so that Harry can win the game and progress into the next room. Hermione just sorta hangs out with Ron. I mean, Harry can handle the fully trained Wizard Teacher and the almighty embodiment of evil by himself.
Harry enters and discovers… Professor Quirrell?! Shock! Awe! Surpri–we all knew this was coming, we can skip this part, right? So Quarrel takes off his turban to reveal he has a spooky spooky Voldemort face on the back of his head.
It’s not…uh… not the SCARIEST thing in the world. The final Voldemort design they settled on is great and truly iconic, but this one feels like a bit of a work in progress. Maybe it’s the nose. Harry finds the stone due to a deus ex machina but when Voldey tries to take it, he disintegrates and dies screaming in pain. Harry passes out as Voldemort’s ghost form shoots off to plan for another day.
Later, Harry wakes up in the infirmary, where Dumbledore greets him and explains that he’s decided to destroy the Philosopher’s Stone so that Voldey can’t use it to reconstitute himself. He also explains that the reason Quirrell couldn’t touch Harry was because of Harry’s mother’s love. Quirrell was killed by the power of love. I guess it’s true what they say, it’s strong and it’s sudden and it can be cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life. Or y’know, leave you screeching in pain as your limbs crumble to dust. Either or.
After that, Harry joins his friends for the announcing of which house won the house cup and it turns out Slytherin did. But oh wait, Dumbledore still has to hand out some last minute points and it turns out Harry and his friends get credit for their achievements which pushes them from last place to first and Gryffindor wins!
Ok, so I know Slytherin is evil and we’re supposed to hate them (for valid reasons) but that is still a major dick move, Dumbledore. Hand out the extra points before announcing a winner, don’t tell the Slytherins that they won only to take it back last second. Without even an apology.
Also, “saved entire world from greatest threat of all time” is only worth ten more points than “played chess pretty well” so that’s good to know.
But everyone celebrates, there’s excitement in the air, Chewbacca doesn’t get a medal, end of movie.
So this was actually a really fun movie and I can’t wait to keep going with this series. I went into this hoping to like Harry Potter and, while I’m still at “like” and not “love” I am on my way. Structuring the film as a classic english boarding school drama that just happens to have magic in it is a smart move, and one that gives it a familiar yet unique tone. I would still classify this as a kids film, but a good, recommendable, enjoyable for all ages kids film. It’s possible later installments will grow away from that assessment, but for now its one I feel comfortable making.
Next time, I will continue my journey with the next film in the series and hopefully I’ll be magically changed into a huge Harry Potter fan. We’ll see.