Once upon a time (in 2001, to be exact), there was an 11-year-old boy with a lightening bolt scar who was unaware of his extraordinary powers. And I’m not just talking his soon-to-be-discovered magical prowess, but also his jaw-dropping power to inspire millions of fans young and old to excitedly storm their local theaters to catch the first showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (The experience of seeing the film for the first time was priceless for many, and it certainly paid off for Warner Bros.: The studio bagged a record-breaking $33.3 million during the first day, beating the one-day record previously held by Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and $90 million during the movie’s opening weekend.) It’s appropriate that J.K. Rowling’s boy-wizard creation is nicknamed “the boy who lived” — Harry Potter might have survived Voldemort’s attack on his parents, but he’s also boasted incredible longevity on the big screen, continuing to cement himself as the beloved, albeit scarred, face of one of Hollywood’s most enchanting juggernaut franchises.
So, in anticipation of the Nov. 19 release of part one of the franchise’s final film — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — we’ve decided to take a look back at the movie that chronicled the bespeckled boy-wizard’s first trip to Hogwarts: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And remember how much we were all affected seeing Rowling’s bewitching, fantastical world brought so accurately to life on the big screen. Even EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum — who gave Sorcerer’s Stone an enthusiastic B grade — understood the giddy admiration felt by Potter fans seeing their favorite Hogwarts landmarks from the comfort of their theater seats: “[Director Chris Columbus] translates places previously imagined by millions of readers into shiny images absorbable by millions more. These are pictures so inevitable (to a populace raised on David Lean epics and Macaulay Culkin vehicles) as to provoke a shiver or a sigh: This long, dense, special-effects-laden movie, crammed with subplots involving dragons, ghosts, bullies, evildoers, and moments spent in front of the dark, tantalizing Mirror of Erised that reflects Harry’s sad longing to be reunited with his dead parents, feels as familiar as worn flannel.”
True, it was impossible to not feel warm fuzzies buying a ticket to the film — I remember the heightened excitement that permeated throughout my theater in 2001 with each preview shown before Sorcerer’s Stone, and the eventual look of gleeful recognition that fell over theater-goers’ faces when they spotted locales like Diagon Alley, Flourish and Blotts, and Gringotts Bank for the first time. And they could thank Columbus for that vision, which was inspired not only by Rowling (who told EW that she had a surprising amount of input in the film), but also filmmaker David Lean, who adapted Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in 1946 and Oliver Twist in 1948: “That sort of darkness, that sort of edge, that quality to the cinematography,” Columbus told EW back in 2001. “For the color palette, we talked about Oliver! and The Godfather, which have a sort of rich, almost Technicolor quality to them. When we entered Magicland — which is how we always referred to Hogwarts — I wanted each frame to be filled with a sense of wonder.”
And Potter fans definitely noticed Sorcerer’s Stone‘s wonder: There was nothing quite like seeing a theater full of hardcore Rowling devotees leave a theater satisfied with the very difficult adaptation, which reportedly cost $125 million to make. And it was indeed difficult — EW’s cover story on the first film describes how screenwriter Steve Kloves thought translating Rowling’s words to a screenplay was “a bitch,” seeing as how he had to write one film while setting up the story for six more. But, honestly, what Muggle didn’t want to immediately enroll in Hogwarts after seeing Columbus’ very impressive effort?
And then there are the film’s stars — Daniel Radcliffe as Potter, Rupert Grint as best bud Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as overachiever Hermione Granger — whose precious adolescent cheeks were so pinchable back in 2001, it’s hard to believe they’ve grown into the good-looking and well-respected actors they’ve become: Radcliffe as a strong-jawed thespian who’s made an impression in film, on TV (Extras), and on Broadway (Equus); Grint as a buff, critically beloved star of small films like Driving Lessons; and Watson as a demure co-ed (she’s currently enrolled in Brown) whose intelligence, talent, and maturity rivals her big-screen alter-ego. (Oh, lord — who else feels old just thinking about how young these actors looked in Sorcerer’s Stone?) But while filming Sorcerer’s Stone, Robbie Coltrane — who was handpicked by Rowling to play Hagrid in the franchise — said the trio acted just like the kids they were (and not children who were about to become household names across the world): “They’d throw things at each other and play their Game Boys,” the actor told EW before the release of the movie. “They liked to get the makeup people to give them gashes. Daniel got one to give him a black eye, and he came in the morning and the other ones said, ‘OMIGOD! What happened? … [Columbus] was wonderfully patient. He should be sainted. The trouble with children is that they don’t have the same emotional memory adults have. I’d have been like, C’MON, YOU LITTLE S—! I WANT TO SLEEP! I HAVEN’T SLEPT FOR FOUR WEEKS!! But he doesn’t. He just goes, MmmmHmmm. It’s extraordinary how he gets performances out of them.” And Radliffe, whose overprotective parents almost didn’t allow him to play Potter, even impressed cast members back then with his ability to transform into “the boy who lived.” Said Coltrane: “He holds the film together. He’s in almost every frame … Dan is an 11-year-old with a 35-year-old heart. There [is] so much depth, so much going on behind his eyes, you realize: This is a kid who has lived a life. This is a kid who can appear haunted and troubled by his past. Yet he’s charming. That kind of maturity is hard to find in an 11-year-old.”
And hard to find in a 21-year-old, yet Radcliffe still seems to exhibit it, if the widespread anticipation for Deathly Hallows is any indication. (In fact, Potterphile friends of mine are already planning what to wear while waiting in line at midnight Friday.) But no doubt plenty of you are already watching Potter marathons to prepare for Nov. 19. So, tell us, Muggles — looking back at Sorcerer’s Stone, do you still feel like it holds up today? Do you feel old seeing an 11-year-old Radcliffe? What was your Sorcerer’s Stone theater experience like? Had you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before seeing the movie? (Let us know in the poll below!) And check back on EW tomorrow to remember the second film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!