Is watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone less satisfying than reading J.K. Rowling's tale?
No and yes.
Visually, the movie is a delight. Most readers will find that the images on the screen correspond remarkably to the pictures that the book had created in their heads, from the first scene on Privet Drive when young Harry is deposited at the Dursleys to the final banquet scene when Albus Dumbledore awards the house trophy.
This was a major concern before the movie's release: Would the movie confuse children by contradicting their own vision? Would their imaginations be sabotaged, undermined and challenged?
Parents need not worry. Thanks to Rowling's sharp descriptions of people and their surroundings in her book and the filmmaker's willingness to slavishly reproduce them, the settings and characters from the first story of the Harry Potter series virtually leap off the pages onto the screen.
The casting is nearly flawless, beginning with the appropriately imposing but sentimental Hagrid and the deliciously stern and mysterious Snape. The three young actors found to play the real stars of Rowling's tale are especially impressive: a slightly stunned Harry Potter who manages to be simultaneously shy, mischievous and courageous, the charming red-headed Ron Weasley whose shrugs and crooked smiles speak volumes and the know-it-all Hermione Granger who is just the right combination of Lucy Van Pelt arrogance and Marion the Librarian vulnerability (although she is a little prettier than I had imagined her).
Visuals are not, however, the only component of a children's tale. They are the wrapping but not the present. The best children's stories entertain, of course, but they also instruct. They delight, and in that fantasy, lessons of life are delivered painlessly.
The movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is certainly enchanting, but in its rush to present its whistles and bells of special effects, some of the book's important subtexts are passed over. Ron's shame at being poor, Malfoy's disdain for those whose backgrounds are not pure wizard, and Harry Potter's own struggle with choosing good over evil merit passing lines in the movie. But in the book these themes of class, tolerance and growth are more omnipresent and have far more effect on young readers' minds.
At the end of the movie, just before Harry Potter is to face Voldemort in the dungeon, Hermione Granger tells Harry that she has concluded that there are more important things than books (things like courage and friendship). Rowling's book, on the other hand, emphasizes that courage and friendship are equally important as books. The difference is perhaps too subtle for Hollywood but it is of great importance to those who are in charge of children's educations. Why else would Professor Dumbledore at the final banquet give equal points to Hermione for her use of knowledge and Ron for his willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends?
The children who have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone will already have benefited from the book's more textured lessons. For those who haven't _ and find themselves curious for more _ there is this happy fact: If they can't wait for the next movie, they will have to turn to books, starting with the first, and continuing with the next three in Rowling's remarkable series.