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On his 11th birthday, Harry Potter is told he is a wizard and is invited to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he discovers that a dark power is attempting to rise again, the one responsible for the death of his parents and the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
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Deposited on his Aunt and Uncleís doorstep as a baby after the death of his parents, we revisit young Harry Potter aged 10 to discover he has lived a miserable life so far. He lives in a cupboard under the stairs and is badly mistreated. One day he surprisingly receives a letter but his Uncle doesnít let him read it. This turns out to be a mistake, when, as the days go by, more and more letters arrive addressed to Harry. They are delivered by a large number of owls, who perch happily in front of the house, no doubt causing a few raised eyebrows in this little suburban neighbourhood.
The situation becomes so dire that Harryís Uncle Vernon decides to uproot the family to a hut on a small island, hoping that will deter the sender of the letters. However, in the middle of the night, a half-giant named Hagrid bursts in and personally hands Harry his letter to read; he has been invited to study magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Leaving with Hagrid, Harry goes to Diagon Alley and withdraws some money his parents left him at Gringotts, a bank run by goblins, to purchase his supplies for school. He soon realises that in the wizarding world he is quite the celebrity.
The adult cast is a whoís who of British acting talent, giving the film an added bonus for grown-up viewers. They arenít just clumsily thrown in either, they fit their roles perfectly. I for one canít imagine anyone else playing Professor Snape; Alan Rickman does a brilliant job and for this film J.K. Rowling provided him with vital details of his characterís back story not revealed to readers until the final novel. As well as the main cast, there are also some big names in small roles: John Hurt plays wand-maker Mr Ollivander, John Cleese plays Nearly Headless Nick and Julie Walters plays Mrs Weasley.
Oddly enough, I feel the filmís biggest weakness is that it is a very faithful adaptation. Although movies and books do have a close connection, they are still very different types of media and the best way to adapt a novel for the big screen isnít necessarily to loyally translate it. Doing so means the director doesnít use any of his own imagination or try to make his mark on the film. However, this almost certainly wonít affect childrenís enjoyment and even most adultís.
Overall, it is a very enjoyable fantasy adventure for all the family. The three child leads arenít great (they can sometimes be seen mouthing each otherís lines, among other things) but you can tell there is potential for them to grow and develop as the films continue. And what better place to learn the art than surrounded by a vast number of talented elders in a celebrated film series that already has a huge army of fans.