Home » “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at 20: The movie that started it all

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at 20: The movie that started it all

by Stewart Cole

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” shattered Daniel Radcliffe’s expectations for the normal on a movie set.

The Great Hall, where he shot many of the scenes from the first of eight films based on the JK Rowling series, was a spectacle of detail. Plates with real lamb chops, baked potatoes and puddings were placed next to 400 menus with handwritten letters and – for at least one scene – hundreds of real, shiny candles. The room set took 30 people just over four months to build.

“I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of sets I have played since then in my career and it is of this magnitude,” Radcliffe said in a video interview from his New York apartment in October.

Directed by Chris Columbus, the story of a boy who, when he turns 11, discovers that he is a magician and goes to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which opened on November 16, 2001 and continues gross over $ 1 billion worldwide.

When Radcliffe and the young actors who played his friends, Rupert Grind (Ron Wesley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), were making the film, they were not just pretending to have the time of their lives – it was, Columbus said.

“That’s why we shot with three or four cameras – if one of the kids was looking at the camera or smiling as if he didn’t believe in his good fortune, I had something else to cut,” he said in a phone conversation on a walk. near his home in Malibu in September.

That joy was largely grace, Radcliffe said of Columbus’ infectious passion for his work.

“Chris’ approaches have the right way, in my opinion, which is the view that we are the luckiest people in the world who can do this to make a living,” he said.

Columbus was initially unsure if he wanted to make a movie about wizards, but after Eleanor’s daughter (who plays Susan Bones) kept asking him to read the books, he finally opened the first part and read the 223 pages in one day.

“I thought, ‘I have to make a movie out of this,'” he said.

But when he called his agent to arrange a meeting with Warner Bros., “She said, ‘Yes, you and about 30 other directors,'” Columbus said.

So he thought of a strategy: He asked for the last meeting with studio executives and spent about 10 days writing a screenplay from the director’s point of view.

“I think the most impressive thing about it was that I did something for free,” he said with a laugh. “No one in Hollywood does anything for free.”

About six weeks later, he learned that the job was his – on one condition: He had to fly to Scotland to meet Rowling.

“I sat there for two and a half hours, talking non-stop, explaining my vision for the film,” he said. And he said, “I see it exactly the same way.”

He also made her go and throw him a bat in an important casting decision: his Harry. He loved Radcliffe from the moment the actor read about the place – “It was fantastic,” Columbus said – but the studio was not so sure.

“Finally, I called Joe and said, ‘Are you going to look at this kid?’ he said. When he said “the perfect Harry Potter,” Columbus recalls, the studio went on.

Radcliffe, now 32, said that although he did not consider his performance in the film to be an excellent one, he was no longer ashamed of some of the scenes as he was in his late teens.

“Now I can look back and say, ‘Okay, you were a kid, it’s fine,'” he said with a laugh. “It’s still a wonderful memory.”

In separate interviews, Radcliffe and Columbus recalled what it took to shoot four key scenes. Following are edited excerpts from our conversations.

Creating the main gathering place at Hogwarts, where students eat all their meals at the House tables, was a mammoth project.

COLUMBUS When the actors enter the Great Hall for the first time, what you see on their faces is the genuine reaction when they saw this incredible scene for the first time.

RADCLIFF He never lost that power.

COLUMBUS Production designer Stuart Craig and [the set decorator] Stephenie McMillan had such an incredible eye for detail. I opened one of the menus and realized that all 400 had been handwritten in oil paste. I thought, “My God, this is the real deal.” I have never had such a great production plan since.

But there were some hiccups.

COLUMBUS The food came – an American Thanksgiving – and was destined to last eight to 10 hours. I came back the next day, and it was still the same food! By Day 3, I can only say that the scent of the Great Hall was getting a little funky.

There was also an accident.

COLUMBUS When all the children lay in the Great Hall for the first time, we see hundreds of floating candles in the air. And then something horrible happened – the candle flames started burning through the transparent cord that held them and they started to fall! We had to get everyone out of the set – and then we shot it two more times, saying to ourselves, “We’re just going to add CGI candles.”

RADCLIFF We are scattered! I’m sure Chris was more anxious than that, but as a kid, you said, “That’s really funny.”

Quidditch scenes are some of the most exciting parts of the film. But the podiums led by the actors were a bit, eh, bumpy.

COLUMBUS The coordinator of our acrobatic, Greg Powell, invented these wonderful platforms that gave all the actors the feeling that they were almost on a walk in an amusement park. What you see on their faces many times, especially in the Quidditch match, is real – they were a little terrified, but for the most part, as 11-year-olds, they spent most of their lives.

RADCLIFF Looking back, it would be perfectly acceptable for me as an 11-year-old to say in interviews, “Yes, Quindic’s scenes are quite painful.” But at the time, it was like, “I can not say anything bad or negative about anything,” so you say, “No, no, no, it’s great.” It was a broomstick with a thin seat in the middle and you had no stirrups — or, if you had, it was very, very high — so you were basically putting all your weight in your trash when you leaned forward.

COLUMBUS A few weeks before I started the movie, I stumbled upon Steven Spielberg. And he said, “There’s one thing you have to do: When these kids get off the podium, they have to rub their thighs like athletes, as if it were really an incredibly painful experience.”

RADCLIFF I think in the fifth film, they made a broom that had more of a tractor seat for a rowing machine, and we said, ‘Why did it take so long to change that? That’s much better! “

When Harry and Ron fight with the troll in the girls’ bathroom, Ron casts a spell to throw a bat at the troll – but not before he turns Harry around and shakes him around his ankles.

COLUMBUS Whatever CGI character could not be there personally, I had to be. So in the second movie I was Dobby, Vasiliskos – and here, I was the troll. In the wide shots I could only shout and behave like a maniac off-camera, but in the close-ups, I could really be next to the camera pretending to be a troll. It was one of the most intense workouts I have ever had.

RADCLIFF One of the great things about early movies was that a huge portion of the effects were practical. The plan to do the duck as the bathroom benches explode when the troll hits them with the cane – some of them were very real. It is always better to react to something that exists.

One of the obstacles that guard the Wizard Stone is the chessboard of a giant wizard, which Harry, Ron and Hermione have to cross their path. The filmmakers created 32 pieces, which were up to 12 feet tall and weighed up to 500 pounds.

COLUMBUS Stuart and I thought it would be interesting to build as much as possible so we could get the kids’ real reactions to these huge chess pieces. The only things that grew on CGI were a few explosions — although we did practice — and a few scenes where the tracks really had to move. I think they were the pawns who had to draw their swords.

RADCLIFF Of course, they got an international master to invent a chess puzzle. The attention to detail was very nice.

Some fans have pointed out that the game is not strictly expensive.

COLUMBUS I saw the first cut and said, “This is really, very slow.” I participated in an expensive game of chess. So I said to my author, ‘We need to reduce this.’ I can not worry that the game is played exactly as a chess expert would play it.

RADCLIFF It was an incredibly cool set – we literally played on this huge chessboard every day surrounded by fire – and the effects in this scene endure in a way that not all the effects of the first film do.

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