My first time... watching a Harry Potter movie

click to enlarge Daniel Radcliffe's hair has seen better days since 2001.
Daniel Radcliffe's hair has seen better days since 2001.

I don't have anything against wizards per se. Granted, I've spent much of life avoiding fantasy novels and albums by '70s rock bands who could be mistaken for wizards. (Check out old photos of Lynyrd Skynyrd sometime.) But I loved Merlin in campy film classic Excalibur, and my family watched The Wizard of Oz every year back when most of America only had a few TV channels.

All that is preamble to say the reason I never saw (or read) a Harry Potter story before now wasn't some anti-wizard bias, or a principled stance against author J.K. Rowling's unfortunate tendency to insult the trans community, but rather sheer circumstance.

When the first book came out, I was a 25-year-old single dude without a TV. And when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone hit the big screen I was still single, still childless and still more interested in other 2001 movies like Gosford Park, Amelie, even the first Lord of the Rings flick. See, definitely not anti-wizard!

Obviously I'm aware of the cultural phenomenon that is Harry Potter. My nephews and friends' children have been obsessed with the books for years, and I sat next to my old newspaper's film critic for much of the movie series' 10-year run. Films and books that generate literally billions of dollars don't really slip by under the radar.

As I sat to watch Sorcerer's Stone with my partner's 16-year-old daughter, she delivered the characters' lines throughout, even though it had been years since she last screened it. As someone who can do the same with the original Star Wars from my childhood, I can appreciate the obsession required for that kind of thing.

Consider this the unofficial launch of a new sometimes-series of Inlander staffers experiencing a pop culture phenomenon for the first time — way after most people did the same. Here are a few random observations of my inaugural trip to Hogwarts:

As a kid who grew up with bangs, I look forward to Harry's first effort to do something different with his hair. I hope it goes better for him than it did for me.

When Harry, Hermione and Ron got caught in the Devil's Snare, I'm guessing everyone my age thought of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.

I've heard of real-life colleges starting Quidditch leagues. How does that work, exactly? Personal jet packs?

I know John Williams' score was nominated for an Oscar, but it was not a highlight. It felt very generic "children's movie" (which, fair enough, this movie is) and didn't strike me as particularly memorable. I've since been told by a Harry Potter-loving friend that said score is "iconic." Another friend has it as her phone's ringtone. I'm clearly in the minority on this one.

It was delightful to see all the British actors dotting the cast. Right from the jump, when Fiona Shaw (so great on Killing Eve) shows up as Harry's mean aunt, I was loving seeing people like Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and John Cleese show up in roles big and small. And of course Alan Rickman slays in everything, a great choice for Severus Snape. Had I paid attention to the casting when this movie came out, I might have checked it out back then. And if Harry Potter served as a gateway for young fans to later find their way to Rickman's greatest role (Die Hard's Hans Gruber, duh) all the better.

The bad guy is the only character wearing a turban? Really? Seems, um, problematic.

My favorite character might be Nearly Headless Nick, because I love John Cleese, but a strong second is the Sorting Hat. I thought that might be a weird choice and then saw that Elvis Mitchell's New York Times criticism of the film included the idea that the Sorting Hat had more personality than the human characters. When it comes to Harry, Hermione and Ron in this first film, he's not wrong. I'm sure the child actors get more lifelike as the series goes along.

Despite the fact Harry, Hermione and Ron all nearly died trying to keep the Sorcerer's Stone from the bad guys, I never felt like the stakes were super high throughout this first chapter of the Harry Potter saga. Obviously, there's a lot of that story still to come in the ensuing films, and from what I understand, most of them are done with more directorial flair than Chris Columbus displayed in this one. And I can't lie — it didn't take me long to fire up the next chapter and dig into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. ♦

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine and The Oregonian. He grew up across the country in an Air Force family and studied at...