Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the screen version of J.K. Rowling's best-selling phenom about an eleven-year-old British orphan who discovers he's a wizard, isn't a movie at all — it's an industry and should be treated as such. It's useless to pick at the movie — as close to a sure thing as you'll find anywhere — when it's more instructive to look for chinks in the film's business plan. (Psst: There aren't many.)
What's the investment strategy? The budget is high — $125 million. But remember that the HP series has already sold 100 million books. And the kids who read them are panting to see the flick even if they have to take their parents along. You do the math. And factor this in: Rowling, a single mom from Scotland, has already published three sequels, with three more projected. George Lucas, eat your heart out. How confident is Warner Bros. that HP will strike gold? Shooting has already started on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
What kind of star power did the budget buy? None. Daniel Radcliffe,12, who plays Harry, is virtually unknown. The same goes for Rupert Grint, 13, as Ron, and Emma Watson, 11, as Hermione — Harry's friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Richard Harris as professors and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid the giant are fine actors, not stars. All to the good.
Where did the money go? On nifty F/X like Harry and pals playing Quidditch on flying broomsticks. Only Muggles (drones) wouldn't love the baby dragon, the pet owl and the living chessboard.
What's the downside? The movie is nearly two and a half hours long, a tough sit for tykes, who might save their all-important repeat business for Disney's ninety-two-minute Monsters, Inc. Also, it's hard to slot HP as a date-night fave. Still, hiring nonhack screenwriter Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) pays dividends. And Chris Columbus (Home Alone), who won the director's seat over bolder innovators like Terry Gilliam, stays hat-in-hand faithful to the book. Smart move, putting a cash cow in the hands of a man who knows how to milk it.
Is the movie any good? At the dawn of the twenty-first century, when art is defined by commerce, this question is beside the point.