Movie Review

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

MPAA Rating: PG for some scary moments and mild language

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
STAFF WRITER

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Family
Genre:
Action, Adventure
Length:
2 hr. 22 min.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
November 16, 2001 (wide)
Harry Potter. Copyrighted.
Relevant Issues
Featuring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, John Cleese
Director: Chris Columbus
Producer: David Heyman, Mark Radcliffe
Distributor: Warner Brothers

It is difficult to argue against success…almost impossible. J.K. Rowling’s four books have grossed over $100 million in sales. There are more than 700 tie-in products. The film has set and broken several records: it opened in a record 3,672 theaters, shown on a record 8,000 screens, breaking the record (once held by “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”) for one-day sales at $32.9 million. It smashed the total weekend sales (once held by “Jurassic Park: Lost World”) at $93.5 million. I am sure it will reach $100 million in four days (beating the record now held by “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”—which reached $100 mil in 5 days). Now Christian parents will have to decide if they can resist this new tidal wave of media pressure.

There is an on going literary debate surrounding the content of the stories. Christians are even divided on this very controversial issue. I know that I wrote a brief article for my weekly parents guide to the movies (which is published in a local paper) and I received a 4-page letter from a local clergy. Pat Robertson’s CBN News has been very outspoken regarding the content of the Harry Potter books as “evil and occultic”. Charles Colson on his radio show “Breakpoint” described the witchcraft in Harry Potter as “not real-life witchcraft that the Bible condemns”. He also said “the practices in the book are purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic.”

Jeremiah Films has described the series as “making evil look innocent”. Focus on the Family has posted an article in their Plugged-In magazine by Lindy Beam. She contends that adults can use the themes of the Harry Potter series as a tool for evangelism. Christianity Today and World Magazine has also given the book series recommendations and suggests that the themes of fantasy should not be taken literally. You can find an opinion to support whatever view you have on the subject.

Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.” Photo copyright by Warner Bros.

I enjoy reading Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature. (In fact, I’m writing a series of Christian sci-fi spiritual warfare books called “The Hologram Investigator”). I’m well aware of the debate over children’s ability to separate fantasy from reality. The books, after all, have received an enthusiastic endorsement from the American Psychiatric Association. But I still struggle with the themes in the books and, now that I have seen the film, the straining seems even more intense.

First of all, I want to make one point very clear. Reading or watching Harry Potter will not send you to Hell. I just think that parents should use wise and well-founded discernment regarding the content of this product. I believe there is a vast difference between a story where the main character goes to a school for witches and wizards vs. the use of a wizard in The Hobbit and a witch in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. I also think that the emphasis on magic is different than its use in the book “A Wrinkle in Time”. If you found those themes objectionable in the Harry Potter books—they are very convincing in the film.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the story of an orphan boy that lives in the cupboard under the stairs. He is being raised by his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw). They pamper their own son and abuse their nephew. Harry, however, is destined for greater things and has been selected to attend Hogwarts (a renowned school for wizards and witches). There Harry’s gifts begin to flourish and he finds out that he is especially good at Quidditch (a game involving flying brooms and four balls). Harry also begins to build friendships with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). They are shown studying and practicing the occult like real students. The movie covers his first year in school. Harry has to learn how to separate his friends and his enemies, which is not always an easy task. The primary plot point surrounds a faculty member who is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry also learns that a character named Voldemort murdered his parents and left the scar on his forehead.

There is plenty of suspense in this well-written story. This film succeeds in every possible way. I am sure it will walk away with no less than six Oscars. Director Chris Columbus did an outstanding job translating the story to the big screen. He set aside his ego and allowed Rowling to have a great deal of input in the project (a courtesy that many writers do not enjoy). Rowling even got to select many of the cast members. She also worked closely with Steven Kloves on the script. From the set design to the finished product, everyone wanted to satisfy Rowling’s reluctance to have her stories made into films. John Williams also conducted an outstanding musical score. His music brilliantly captured the personality of the characters and the mood of every scene. The special effects were well placed and not over-done.

My primary objection to the film and the story is the very strong and central theme of witchcraft. This is condemned clearly in Deuteronomy 18:10-12. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” I plead with parents to use strong discernment regarding this film. Matt. 18:6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” My cautions are underscored by the fact that we are living in a day different than “The Wizard of Oz”. We are technologically “not in Kansas” anymore.

The Internet (which has numerous fan sites hyper-linked to Wiccan and Witchcraft sites) and this compelling visual film experience could be powerful enough to engage young minds to ponder “the dark side”. Many of the toy tie-ins promote spells (55 mentioned so far in the series) and witchcraft. Parents may want to wisely choose their “potter”.

What could be the consequences of placing the clay of young minds on Harry Potter’s wheel of fantasy? I do know that Warner Brothers is enjoying two gifts this Christmas. One, for the box office success and two, for a PG rating in a film that is extremely violent. I recommend that you resist this “Pied Piper” and skip it altogether. Alternately, I highly recommend the “Redwall” series by author Brian Jacques. I have suggested it as a reading alternative to several parents and they and their children have thanked me. If you can avoid the Harry Potter hype—you too may one day thank me.


Viewer Comments
Comments below:

A warning… “I respect the opinions of all those here, however! My experience comes from being an ex Wizard/warlock/satanist myself and now serving the Lord without any spells or so called magic. Witchcraft is very real, and anything that points to witchcraft being good or acceptable is against the Bible.

Call me a conservative if you must, but consider the biblical mandate to stray away from any appearance of evil, and the many passages in the Old Testament referring to sorcery. We are expressly commanded to not be involved in such things. I’ve never seen Harry Potter, nor will I ever. God’s word and call is much too important to take this movie lightly. Harry Potter is a definite attempt to charm our children into things they don’t understand and will trap and in a world where God is everything and everyone, including themselves. BEWARE! SATAN COMES AS AN ANGEL OF LIGHT! Any comments or questions can be emailed to me at ForeverMinistry@aol.com
—Michael A. Porter, age 36

Please note that the opinions expressed in viewer comments below do not accurately reflect an appropriate cross-section of the Christian community because many Christians chose not to view this film.

Positive
Positive—…Harry and his friends Ron and Hermoine use magic to get out of the many scrapes they get into. They are warned against using it for evil purposes; it is assumed that they are learning to hone their powers for good deeds. There are some scenes that might be too scary for younger viewers. The Lord’s name is taken in vain once, and a few characters engage in mild swearing. The film’s violence involves explosions, fires, pushing and shoving. Some blood is shed, but not enough to qualify as excessive or gory…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Hillari Hunter, age 39
Positive—I went to see the movie and enjoyed it as a “good vs. evil”story. It has several elements that can open up conversations with your kids about subjects such as misjudging character, revenge, greed, respect, as well as the occult. I found the movie not more objectionable than “Star Wars” or any of the other popular kid themes (fantasy, super hero, Disney). It was too much for younger children, 8 years and younger—there were monsters and the evil characters were portrayed evil, which is more than you can say about many movies lately. If you have an aversion to a secular view of fantasy, don’t go to the movie. If you think your kids will see the movie sooner or later, go see it with them and talk about what is good and evil—from the secular and Biblical point of view.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Eric, age 40
Positive—As someone who has read the entire Harry Potter series (so far, that is), I was delighted to see that the film adaptation of “the Sorcerer’s Stone” was very accurate to the original story. I do, however, have a growing concern over the influence that Harry Potter’s success has had on the literary world. Books dealing with demonic themes are becoming increasingly prevalent now that a strong market for them is becoming apparent.

As Christians, it is important for us to remain steadfast in our beliefs and recognize that whether or not Harry Potter seems to be harmless fantasy, we cannot encourage the growing trend of “white magic.” With that said, we should use the Harry Potter themes of friendship, loyalty and love as means for evangelism and encouragement in our own lives, and the themes of magic and witchcraft as simply symbolism and archetypal story progression, holding strong to our beliefs about the occult, being that abomination that it is…
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Chris Scalise, age 18
Positive—I saw the movie on its opening weekend with my 13 year old daughter. As we are both born again Christians, I went into the movie knowing Jesus is my savior and I came out of the movie knowing that Jesus is still my savior; the same goes for my daughter. I liked how the friends were there for each other (a good lesson) and how Harry overcame his feelings of loneliness and not being loved. The special effects were wonderful and should not be given any more power than just that, special effects, not witchcraft; if they are, then you must be warned about Star Trek, Star Wars and many other sci/fi movies. My daughter has read all four books and has not changed or started practicing witchcraft. She does not try to transform herself into an animal nor try to wave a stick around and cast spells…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Tammy, age 37
Positive—Superbly done. Very enjoyable for the whole family. Two swear words total, one a darn and the other a donkey—but the strong British accents garbled even those. Wonderfully acted, excellent special effects, terrific musical score. The characters are quite lovable and memorable—the family unit is positively portrayed. Relax and enjoy this fine family flick that we found actually quite uplifting and inspiring. Anxious to see it again!
My Ratings: [4½]
—Jay Sneddon, age 37
Positive—Okay, I never read the Harry Potter books, so I never understood what all the fuss was about. I didn’t know why some people were condemning these books. Now I’ve seen the movie and you know what? I STILL don’t understand what the problem is. It was a good movie. The reviewer here called the film “extremely violent.” I’m wondering if he watched the same film I did. There is some mild cartoon style violence, but certainly much less than what they watch on the evening news. The real problem that a minority of people have with this story is the sorcery that the story revolves around. I think I should like to point out to this minority of people that this is a work of FICTION, and should be treated as such…
My Ratings: [4½]
—Joseph J. Fusco, age 31, non-Christian
Negative—Really disappointed in this over-hyped limp towel of a feature film, about as cinematically daring as the live action Disney films of the 60s and 70s. There is absolutely nothing evil associated with the production, other than the greed of box office, but nothing new there. I’d be surprised if adults who like the books feel the same way about this pedestrian commercialistic celluloid…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2]
—Petey Weets, age 31
Positive—I heard a lot of controversy over this movie. I had a good feeling about it—have never read the books, and I just got home from taking my 8-year old. I am Roman Catholic and definitely understand the danger of wizardry and that sort of thing. This movie was wonderful. A bit too long for my 8-year old though. It was clever and sweet. Far less violence and “evil” than you see in any Disney cartoon. Good won out over bad. The real lesson of the movie had nothing to do with magic at all. They even celebrated Christmas in the little wizards school. It was purely make believe and I would definitely see this movie again.
My Ratings: [4]
—Maureen Sprohge, age 46
Positive—Come on, this is harmless fantasy! I was more concerned with Harry (purposely or inadvertently) killing off a character than with the so-called “witchcraft.” I refer others to the review by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting (at www.usccb.org) which says, in part: “Parents concerned about the film’s sorcery elements should know that it is unlikely to pose any threat to Catholic beliefs.

“Harry Potter” is so obviously innocuous fantasy that its fiction is easily distinguishable from real life. Harry uses his “magical powers” for good to fight evil. Parents and children can enjoy this fetching tale in the same spirit of the time-honored tradition of sorcery in Eastern Literature, such as the magical figure of Merlin in the Arthurian legend. And the film ends with a very upbeat, positive message about sacrificial love.” Sacrificial love… Hmmm, where have we heard that moral before?
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Michael, age 46
Positive—I decided to read the books before taking my children (9 and 14 years old) to see this movie. The story in the film closely follows the first book and the emphasis is on friendship and self sacrifice in the battle of good against evil. This is particularly seen in (Warning, spoiler!) the chess match when Ron sacrifices himself for Harry and Hermione in order to help them defeat the bad guy. As a committed Christian I have been concerned about the paganism that has taken root in British society. The Church needs to recognise that this movie is an opportunity to share the real good news that Jesus defeated evil on the cross and that we have the power of God to do so much more than Harry in our battle against evil. Overall, an excellent movie that I would like to see again.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—C J Carter, age 41
Neutral
Neutral—A made-for-mass-consumption, unchallenging, sufficiently entertaining work. But when it comes to the issue of witchcraft, I encourage readers to go to Cornerstone magazine, where another Christian critic has a sharp commentary on why the magic in Harry Potter is NOT the wicked force of Satan that most conservative reactionaries say it is… www.cornerstonemag.com/imaginarium/movies/potter.htm
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
—Jeffrey Overstreet, age 31
Negative
Negative—The movie puts a positive face on witchcraft by making a distinction between white magic and the black arts, a distinction that the Bible never makes. In fact, the Bible associates all forms of sorcery with the Prince of Darkness… Young people who watch the movie will identify emotionally with the heros and heroines and want to be just like them and, in the process, the positive exposure to occult practices will desensitize them to the dangers and maybe entice them to experimentation.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4]
—Pastor John Salvatore, age 40
Negative—I’m sorry but this film is completely anti-christian. Not only does it not have anything at all to do with God but it promotes such acts as divination, necromancy, incantations and other occultic practices, and such behaviour like lying, cheating, stealing and other bad behaviours that kids will imitate as HP is a hero amongst their generation.

HP seemed to have a hypnotic feel to it as if it was drawing you into something more than just a movie. If I offend anyone with my next statement then tough, but it’s the truth… the Word tells us that in the last days many will be led astray, even the elect (Christians), and even goes on to tell us that Satan comes as an angel of light. HP is such an angel, showing courage, friendship and the battle of “good vs evil” but, in the end, it’s all worldly. Where has discernment gone in the body of Christ? Where have morals gone also? Bottom line: This film is [not of God]…
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1]
—Pastor C St. John, age 30
Negative—Harry Potter is clearly about school and the heights (pun intended) that one can reach through learning. It is about good’s fight against evil. And lastly, it’s about the way those heights are achieved: through magic. The intention, the ends and the means. Most Christians have trouble with the “means” part. Depending on a Christian’s culture and/or denominations, there are various takes on the supernatural. Some denominations have no problem with the idea of using material earthly things to affect earthly reality. Another denomination might believe that magic exists but should be judged by its purpose—whether the magic is being used for good or for evil.

Some denominations don’t believe in any kind of supernatural intervention of any kind—these folks are even hard pressed to believe that God works miracles today. And still other denominations dislike the idea of magic so much that they can’t abide any depiction of it in art. Some Christians won’t even read the stories of C S Lewis or Shakespeare’s Macbeth—stories written by authors who are clearly Christian. What will they do about a book whose author doesn’t so much as give an altar call or mention God in a devouted breath? Quite simply: the book is about making schooling meaningful and making one’s life meaningful. Hogwart school means community and honor.

It means personal involvement in the fight against good and evil. Perhaps the Christian community will learn from this: Kids need to know how exciting mere math, physics, and earth science is. But they also need a place of honor and community. And they need to know about the fight against good and evil. And maybe they need to know that life is not drab, that spiritual power exists, and that there are human and demonic counterfeits of spiritual power. J K Rowling studied fantasy and myth in college. She clearly doesn’t respect the non-magical folks in the world. But the big question is: how respectful she will be towards Christians? Will she slip in snide anti-christian stuff as the non-Christian media does in its movies and books? Or will she simply ignore us? And which will be worst?
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—Carole McDonnell, age 41
Negative—I saw the movie, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The extremes of both positive and negative reactions puzzle me. The quality of the film was very mediocre at best. The special effects were standard, and the pacing was painfully slow. There were several plot holes the size of the Great Lakes. I’m told the books explain these gaps in logic, but the film should stand or fall on its own merits. I don’t object to the use of magic or sorcery in the story, its depiction is a caricature and not reality, although I can understand some fearing it makes the people who do such things seem “normal”, and will cause kids to become curious about it, but that was not what I objected to. What offended me so deeply was that the kids rule-breaking behavior was arbitrarily condemned and rewarded.

Several times Harry and friends do what the teachers tell them not to and they end up benefiting from it. This is very insidious and disturbing to me. Kids, obviously the target audience for these books, are not being shown the dangers of immoral hearts rebellious attitudes such as the Grimm Fairy Tales show (in graphic detail far worse than this film’s violence, to say the least).

The spirit of rebellion is in full effect during pre-adolescent years, let’s not kid ourselves, but this film seems to be encouraging kids to defy authority figures such as parents and teachers, and by doing so they will have fun, experience adventure, get friends, etc. This is shocking to me and what we as Christians, especially those with kids put in their charge, should be focusing our efforts on correcting in light of scripture. If we train up our kids in the way they SHOULD go, when they are older they WILL not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6), that is the promise we can hold to.

If we show them the awesome love and power presented in and through Jesus Christ, and passionately point to the truth, they will not be drawn away by the counterfeits the enemy tries to tempt them with.
—Joel, age 30
Negative—Because it appeared that Harry Potter movie was going to be nearly impossible to avoid, we started by reading the review on Focus on the Family Web site (Christian Spotlight hadn’t finished its review at that time) including the separate review “What shall we (Christian families) do about Harry Potter” by Lindy Beam, as found on Focus on the Family. But reading reviews is kind of like the WTC disaster site, where they say that pictures don’t convey the sense that you feel when you experience it in person. So too with the movie Harry Potter.

Then we tried to talk to our son, but our concerns were hard to communicate with a 12 year old who had little comprehension about witchcraft—occult matters. The movie didn’t help any because it clearly and deceptively puts a sugar coat and superficial positive light on matters that are evil and harmful in real life. It is boring and tedious at times for adults, but generally not for the kids who are easily amused by the action. Having taken my 12 yr old son to the movie, I feel a stronger need than ever to follow up with more education about the true evil nature of witchcraft and occult so that he learns to put the movie in perspective.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Dave Storhaug, age 57
Comments from young people
Positive—Personally, I enjoyed Harry Potter greatly. It was an entertaining movie which had some great direction. The story’s pace is close to perfect, and there is not a dull moment in the film. Some may complain that this is long for a children’s film (2hrs 40mins by my watch) but is worth watching.

However, I would issue a warning to those seeing the movie. There are obviously elements of wizardry and witchcraft in the story, and while not entirely upsetting or described in great detail, there are still a few nuances of sorcery present. I would not particularly worry about this film being shown to children who are of a young age, although it would be wise to explain to them afterwards that the magic Harry Potter performs in the movie has no bearing on reality, and should not be meddled under any circumstances.

That said, Harry Potter is an entertaining film for the whole family, as long as you are mindful of the fantasy setting.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—David, age 17
Positive—Harry Potter was awesome! I’ve read all the books and have really enjoyed them. It was exciting to see one of my favorite books turned into such an outstanding movie. Yes, there was witchcraft, but in the end good triumphed over evil. Some people don’t like it because of the “occult” factor but I have known several people who were Wiccan and they are nothing like the characters in the movie. I went to go see this movie with my pastor and his family. We ALL loved it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Julia Scott, age 14
Positive—This was one great movie! Talk about fantasy and imagination! My family and I had so much fun watching it together. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for very young children, (because of a couple of tense/frightening scenes) but my family just loved it! This is a must-see movie this year!
My Ratings: [4½]
—Kelsey, age 14
Positive—I thought that this movie was very good. It had some objectionable language in it but for the most part clean. This movie does seem to stay away from the showing of many spells, potions, etc. There are a few scenes that show those types of things. If you have a young child who wants to go, I would suggest going with them because there are a few tense scenes. Overall, it was a good movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Dan Broersma, age 17
Movie Critics
…Very strong pagan worldview with very strong occult elements including witchcraft and ghosts, plus some moral, redemptive elements including some family values…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…For the secular world, Harry has many good messages about bravery, courage and friendship. It even comments about the power of sacrificial love… But along with the learning of incantations, potions, wand waving and broomstick riding, HARRY includes other elements which the Bible also takes a negative view of…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Those who opposed the book on spiritual grounds will have every reason to oppose the film for the same reasons. Columbus kept the dark elements of the book intact. Although the conflict between good and evil is still very evident throughout the story, it remains ensconced in a world where wizardry and witchcraft are desired skills to learn and employ. Although the film be fantasy, this is an extremely dangerous message to send to eager young minds…
—Michael Elliott, Movie Parables
…So what is the danger in Harry Potter? First, it is neither a Christian allegory, nor does it subscribe to a consistent Christian worldview. And second, we live in a culture that glorifies and promotes witchcraft and the occult…[this film] definitely raises curiosities… about magic and wizardry…
—Lindy Beam, Focus on the Family, Plugged In