Practical magick

Movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Our Rating: 3.50

Protective parents and their children need cast no angry hexes upon Warner Bros. Pictures, which has effected a minimum of changes to the first novel in J.K. Rowling's beloved Harry Potter series. In "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the 10-year-old title orphan (Daniel Radcliffe) enrolls in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a 1,000-year-old institution where ghosts roam the halls and candles hang miraculously in the air. As taught by a pedigreed faculty (including Richard Harris and Maggie Smith), Harry and his classroom chums learn to transform objects, mix potions and ride broomsticks. In their spare time, they pursue the mystery of a closely guarded treasure that's stashed on the school grounds.

Fans will welcome the mostly reverent translation, but the uninitiated will find the movie cramped and static. Petrified to delete anyone's favorite Potterism, director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steven Kloves pack a panoply of diversions -- baby dragons! Magic mirrors! Unicorns! -- into a swollen two-and-a-half hours. No character, creature or turn of events comes off as any more important than another, and the tale's episodic structure lacks the forward motion film demands.

The visual effects only sporadically lighten the load: The mid-story game of Quidditch (soccer on broomsticks) suffers from some surprisingly shoddy CGI and green-screen work. Better to focus on Harry's incandescent young pals, the bossy Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the down-to-earth Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Too bad Radcliffe, the least talented of the bunch, has landed the pivotal role of Harry. His job is to appear perpetually amazed, but the best he can manage is amiable curiosity. Real fascination is out of his range. And if Harry isn't fascinated, how can we be?

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