Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (Cert PG)

by BAZ BAMIGBOYE, Daily Mail

Those mean muggles over at Warner Brothers are not letting film critics see the new Harry Potter movie before it opens to the public.

But not being a film critic, and a Potter fan to boot, I was allowed a sneak preview at the weekend. And I am happy to report that it truly is a wizard show.

I suspect that fans of all ages will want to see it again and again, meaning it could well overtake Titanic as the biggest money-making film of all time, repaying its £110million cost many times over.

It begins with a pre-title sequence which sees the orphan baby Harry being delivered to the Dursleys, his rotten relatives, on a flying motorbike.

But the real fun starts with Harry's acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is when we see Harry as an 11-year-old played with charming courage by Daniel Radcliffe.

Hagrid the caretaker, played by Robbie Coltrane, has just told him the painful truth about his parents' murder by the evil Lord Voldemort, and Harry is reeling as much as we are.

This is when the film's American director Chris Columbus transports us into the mystical world of magic and leaves the mundane world of muggles -boring, blinded, biased humans.

Hagrid takes Harry down the magical shops of Diagon Alley, where he'll buy his wand from jovial Mr Ollivander (John Hurt) and overhear other excited schoolboy wizards enthusing over the latest flying broomstick in a shop window - 'Gosh, look! It's the new Nimbus 2000!'

Then it's off to King's Cross Station to catch the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 3/4. The special effects scenes of Harry trying to find his way are beautifully done, and I liked Coltrane's fire-shooting brolly.

Shooting the movie in British locations with a mostly British crew and all-British cast helped ensure that the film has been mostly free of the saccharine gloss that has choked the life out of many a Hollywood film.

And the controlling hands of author JK Rowling and producer David Heyman have kept the picture true to the novel.

That's not to say the film is an absolute replica of the book. That could never be. To realise the book in its entirety would have meant a film of seven or eight hours.

Also there are changes here and there. Fans had already noticed in preview extracts that Harry's zigzag thunderbolt scar on his forehead was not dead centre as on the book jacket. But Miss Rowling agreed with Mr Columbus that it would look better on young Radcliffe if it were off-centre.

Harry's pals at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger ( Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley ( Rupert Grint), are both good and it's clear that an easy friendship developed between them and Radcliffe off screen as well as on.

The deadly wizard chess game the trio have to play for Harry to get to the philosopher's stone is edge-of-your-seat stuff. And another highlight is the fabulous flying broomstick scenes when Harry plays the heart-stopping game of Quidditch.

One ten-year-old boy sitting a few seats along from me on Saturday afternoon gripped his seat and didn't let go.

Little Miss Watson is suitably bossy and we all of us enjoyed her co-star Grint's wicked asides about clever Hermione. 'You're a little scary sometimes. Do you know that?' says Ron.

But he's grateful when her attentiveness in Potions, Spells and Transfiguration and Herbology classes comes in useful as they are trapped in Devil's Snare. It is a very scary moment in the film, as indeed in the book.

Some young children will find some of the dark bits rather frightening, but most would have already read the book and know what's coming. Will they become bored and restless? No.

For those who want to see the movie more than once, there will be every opportunity. The video and DVD will be out this time next year, just before the second Potter film The Chamber of Secrets is released.

All the encouraging signs are that we will have more of the same. The young actors who play Harry, Ron and Hermione will be back, as will the Hogwarts professors - Maggie Smith as McGonagall and Alan Rickman as Snape.

Ian Hart won't be returning as Professor Quirrel, and I don't need to explain to Potter aficionados why that should be so. And there will be a bit more of John Cleese, who makes a fleeting appearance this time as the ghostly Nearly Headless Nick, and Julie Walters as the thoroughly awful Mrs Weasley.

But for now there are 152 minutes of Potter magic to be enjoyed; and Harry's first spell is captivating stuff.

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