Here's the review that counts most: Max, my 11-year-old companion at a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and an ardent fan of the bestselling novel upon which the film is based, says, "The movie was great! The special effects were amazing. The cast was perfect."
The response of adults to the filmed adventures of Harry Potter (Radcliffe), a young, bespectacled wizard, may be more tempered. Initially Harry casts a powerful spell as it traces the bleak existence of its plucky hero. Like his Dickensian literary predecessors, Pip of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, Harry is orphaned in infancy and survives tough times. He is raised by uncaring relatives who make him sleep in a closet beneath the stairs. All that changes when a giant, bearded stranger named Hagrid (Coltrane) appears on Harry's 11th birthday, tells the boy that he possesses magical powers and then whisks him off to a special school for wizards.
The breathless sense of determination and discovery that characterizes Harry's early scenes vanishes partway through the movie, which runs a foot-jiggling 2 hours and 22 minutes, when Harry and his wizard pals begin making like junior action heroes and battling evil. Director Christopher Columbus (Home Alone) substitutes whiz-bang special effects for narrative momentum and heart. Harry turns into a checklist that includes too many scenes and characters—such as a pointless cameo by Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese)—simply because, well, because they were in the book. But that's a grown—up for you: picky, picky, picky. Max, who also read each of author J.K. Rowling's three successful sequels, can't wait to see Harry again. (PG)
Bottom Line: Kids will fall under Harry's spell