Nitpicking Movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for we dumb Americans) is my favorite film from the Harry Potter series that I’ve seen because it’s the story that feels the most like an introduction to a magical world. Like all the films, it does a pretty good job of adapting J.K. Rowling’s original work and features an amazing cast that not only introduced the world to the likes of Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson but also included such great stars as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, and more. It’s a fun time and a good movie, so now I’m going to spend some time going on about nitpicky details.

Why do parents send their kids to Hogwarts?

I get that wizarding is a big deal and all, and that Hogwarts is a prestigious school, but Harry Potter’s very first meal at the school involves the headmaster giving everybody a warning that going into a certain corridor leads to certain death.  You’ve got deadly beasts and curses around every turn, certain professors are outright abusive, and detention sometimes means being sent into the monster-filled Dark Forest. I mean, just having something on campus called the Dark Forest should be a red flag. Do students get their memories wiped so they won’t be able to tell their parents about the time their potions master slammed a heavy book against a kid’s head, or do wizarding parents think that getting caught out of your dorm past curfew is really grounds to get attacked by an angry gang of centaurs in a haunted forest?

No, no…we’re friendly centaurs…with friendly arrows….that we shoot into the friendly skulls of friendly students.

Does Dumbledore try to get Slytherin kids killed? 

Okay, so a troll shows up in the dungeon, everybody panics, and then Dumbledore busts out his leadership skills to get everything under control. He sends the students back to their dormitories with a faculty chaperone, clearing the way for the instructors to go after the troll. Except, as we learn in future installments, Slytherin’s dormitories are in the dungeon. So, um…did Dumbledore really put an entire quarter of his school’s population at risk? I mean, I’m not going to judge too harshly about that, on account of Slytherin basically being Nazi House, but it still seems like the headmaster shouldn’t be so blatantly trying to murder a sizable portion of his students.

Harry Potter Troll
Even the troll is upset by this one.

Why does Dumbledore allow You-Know-Who to tromp around on campus? 

The series as a whole seriously implies that Dumbledore pretty much knows everything that goes on in Hogwarts. In just the first film, he knows that Harry has been using the Mirror of Erised and already knows the events that transpire in the climax before anybody tells him. With that in mind, he probably has some suspicions about Professor Quirrell, even if he isn’t totally aware that he’s bonded with Voldemort. So why let the guy wander around campus for a full year without doing anything about it? Once again, Dumbledore’s gross negligence nearly got a bunch of his students killed.

Voldemort and Quirrell
People with Wizard Hitler growing out the back of their head should not be allowed near kids.

Dumbledore is a dirty cheater.

Okay, so most of my nitpicks with this film come down to the fact that Dumbledore is either senile or a total asshole. While senility might be able to cover a lot of his gaffes in this film, the stunt he pulls at the end is definitely him being a cheating jerk. All four Hogwarts houses compete for the House Cup throughout the year, earning and losing points as they go. Slytherin wins the cup, but Dumbledore provides a bunch of last minute points to Gryffindor for the “heroism” displayed by Harry and his friends (yeah…I’ll touch on that in a bit).

First of all, that smacks of favoritism – Dumbledore happens to come from Gryffindor, and he happens to trump up a bunch of last-minute point awards, planning everything out so his old house could win by one point. I mean, you’re telling me that nobody in Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin learned the true meaning of friendship all year long?

Secondly, even if Dumbledore had legitimate reason to assign those points, he should have done it before the end of year feast. Instead, he decided to let Slytherin enjoy their moment, then snatch it all away, thus maximizing the embarrassment to all those poor kids. Dumbledore is like Steve Harvey, except malicious.

Steve Harvey
“Five hundred points to Gryffindor!”

A little help, Hermione? 

I get that certain things have to get left out of a film adaptation, because novels can just put so much more into a story. But this film cuts out one important scene that would have allowed each of the Gryffindor trio to get a moment to shine by axing the potions riddle.

In the book, Professor Snape set up one of the traps leading to the Philosopher’s Stone. This trap involved a number of dangerous potions with a riddle that allowed a clever wizard to figure out a way forward and back. Hermione got a moment to shine by figuring out this riddle, and then bid farewell to Harry as he moved on to the final trial.

This would have been about five minutes of screen time that could have provided an actual reason for Hermione to stay behind. Instead, she gives Harry a speech about how much better a wizard he is than her (which is not true, by the way), then decides to stay behind with an injured Ron. Why, Hermione? Do you happen to have a trauma kit on you? Or maybe you know a spell that can help eliminate concussions?

At least she gets to do stuff in the next movie…like hide in the bathroom while the men do stuff with the potions she brewed.

The movie itself specifically says that Snape helped protect the Philosopher’s Stone, then neglects to show how. It wouldn’t have been the most exciting of scenes, but I think giving Hermione something to do other than provide an assist to the boys (and keeping the movie itself internally consistent) would have been a worthwhile addition.

Harry and his friends nearly doomed everybody. 

I mean, kudos to these first-year students for figuring out what’s going on through nothing more than youthful energy and vague clues, but they nearly allowed Voldemort’s rebirth to happen right off the bat. To find the Philosopher’s Stone, a person has to look into the Mirror of Erised without actually wanting the thing. This is a full stop for Voldemort – he simply can’t bypass this puzzle…unless Harry does it for him.

Because Harry gets to the chamber where the Philosopher Stone is held, he nearly winds up serving the artifact up to the Dark Lord on a silver platter. The whole third act of the movie could have been solved if Harry, Hermione, and Ron had decided to stay in their dorms and play Go Fish…or if Neville had just punched Harry out.

Harry Getting Choked Out
Not pictured: hidden cameras set up by Dumbledore so he can watch this again later on.

But despite the fact that these three kids nearly doomed everybody, Dumbledore seems fit to reward them. He’s a cheating bastard, and he really seems to get his kicks out of letting students risk their lives for no reason.


Images: Warner Brothers, John Locher

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