The Department of Mysteries: Re-Watching the ‘Stone’

by Bob Sindeldecker

This past Saturday, Sorcerer’s Stone was again shown on the ABC network here in the States. Since I am in the absurd position of owning a VCR without a TV that will hook up to it (long story), I had not seen it since the last time it was broadcast.

The first thing I noticed was how all of the kid actors had grown. Gosh, they were so cute – and small! Rupert, Dan and Tom all had those high-pitched little-boy voices so prized by choir directors, and it just made them seem all the more vulnerable. The casting director should have received an Oscar (if there was one) for choosing them. Simply put, they were perfect.

Lots of critics have said these young people cannot act, or couldn’t act back then, but this is rubbish. They were all very good, exactly like kids that age should act. If they seem a little fake, well, haven’t you known any kids who put on a false front in new and uncertain situations? In fact, I was struck by how well Tom Felton nailed his role as Draco. I can easily believe there is a lot more going on inside that little creep than meets the eye.

Most fans agree that Emma Watson is the best of the child actors, and she sure is good here. But how many of you noticed Matthew Lewis’ turn as Neville Longbottom? Maybe you never noticed how good he was because he was so good, and so natural. He doesn’t seem like he is acting. He IS Neville, not only here but inChamber Of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban as well. Especially Prisoner of Azkaban.Matt has grown – he looks a little dorky now, poor boy – and in PoA he seemed very realistically awkward and nervous, just as Neville would be. I sure hope he gets more screen time in the next 4 films. That can only be good.

I also noticed for the first time how unnaturally bright all of the outdoor scenes were, especially Quidditch. Of course they shot in Scotland during the summer, and that is very bright indeed. But the flying scenes, all shot in the studio, look almost surreal with their crisp, vivid light. Was that intentional? If so, it was a bright idea (pun intended) because all that flying seems even more real than if they had used more natural light. It reminds me of the old Technicolor films of the 1930s and 1940s, in which everything was shot in the studio to get it perfect, improving on reality. In comparison, the brief, gloomy flying shots in PoA look dull and lifeless. I know they were supposed to look that way – it was howling with rain – but I still like the supernatural Chris Columbus Effect better.

One thing puzzles me: who played Voldemort? Don’t tell me “nobody!” because somebody did. Someone had to move that face: it wasn’t a robot. They did not run the closing credits on ABC and I cannot find it on the IMDB. Anyway, he was very convincing. He also looked a lot like Ralph Fiennes, who will play Voldemort in Goblet Of Fire. I would also like to see Ian Hart, who played Quirrell, back in some other role. He was sharp, and seeing the same actor as another character would be a neat twist.

Speaking of lost adult actors, I miss Zoe Wanamaker. She was great as Madame Hooch, but she wanted more money for the next two films so they cut her. At least they didn’t replace her. Zoe Wanamaker will always be Madame Hooch to me, and I still treasure the first film all the more for her. I hope in the ridiculous budgets for the next few films they can spare a few quid for Madame Hooch; she deserves to be reinstated.

And how about Percy? Chris Rankin was great as Percy – just the uptight snot he needed to be. I’ve heard they have cut out a lot of Percy from GoF and may cut him entirely from Order Of The Phoenix. That’s how business goes, as they say, but it’s still a disappointment. Chris Rankin has a chance to be a major revelation in those films – first the self-important prat, then the disloyal turncoat who shuns his family – but he cannot do anything if they write him out. 🙁

Any re-viewing of Sorcerer’s Stone would not be complete without some words on Dumbledore. I’ll admit I liked Richard Harris in this role, and most people born since 1980 will not remember him as anything but. I had been very critical of Michael Gambon because he wasn’t Richard Harris. Now, however, I find myself thinking differently. Harris played Dumbledore as somewhat of a tired old grandpa, while Gambon plays him as more of a spry, mischievous hippie. I am starting to like Hippie Dumbledore better. Not better than Grandpa Dumbledore, but just better. I see now that even if Harris had lived, Gambon might still have been the better choice to play Dumbledore with the impish, mischievous Alfonso Cuaron directing — just as Harris was a perfect fit for Chris Columbus. That thought makes me anticipate GoF all the more eagerly.

And but, and but…

After the film was over at 11, the news came on. More dead in Iraq. There was more, but that was about all I could register for the next half hour, until Leno came on. Thinking about it, I realized just why the film of Sorcerer’s Stone affects me so much: nostalgia.

It may seem strange to pine for a time only three years gone, but think about it. What has happened in those three years? And what is still happening? Very little that is good. Sorcerer’s Stone takes me back, not so much to November 2001 – that was already months into the current dark age – but before then, before September of that year — really, to the 1990s, when all things still seemed bright and beautiful. I know there are cynics out there who will say, “Yeah, you stupid liberal, that was when your evil, philandering boy Clinton was still President!” but you know that is not what I mean (and anyway I am a Libertarian, not a liberal). No, it was a time when we did not… when we still… when…

Sorry, I can’t find the words.

But Sorcerer’s Stone still moves me. It captures a time we can never get back. Awful as that time was, it still leaves me nostalgic. Of course, what I am really nostalgic for is the world we lived in before September of that year. Before everything we thought we knew – not just some buildings – came crashing down.