Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone (PG)

Review by Marc Ashdown

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Never-Before-Seen Footage; Self-Guided Tour of Hogwarts; Mix potions, perform transfigurations, explore Daigon Alley, catch a snitch and much, much more!; Theatrical Trailers; Languages: English (Dolby 5.1 EX) Subtitles: English, Arabic; Hearing Impaired: English; Screen Ratio: Widescreen 2.35:1

DVD-ROM PC Features: Collect Wizard Trading Cards; Be Sorted by the Sorting Hat; Download Screensave and Remembrall; Receive Owl e-mails; Link to the Web

AFTER all the hype, merchandise tie-ins and media saturation, the hotly anticipated film version of JK Rowling's international smash book has finally arrived. And what a blaze of glory it is. Illuminated with larger than life characters and mind-bending creations, the world of Harry Potter is truly a fantastical experience and a joy to behold.

Sticking almost religiously to the novel, director Chris Columbus has thankfully resisted the temptation to destroy its essence by littering proceedings with misjudged Americanisms and mercifully has instead retained the English roots. Which is the real ace up the sleeve. For although HP1 (as it's being touted in the trade) has its flaws, it's quintessential Brit heart simply cannot be faulted and is sure to secure it a warm place in the country's cinema history.

Anyone who hasn't a clue what the thing is about - welcome back from Mars, but here goes. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is an 11-year-old boy unaware his roots lie in the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry. That is until he receives a letter inviting him to enrol at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and his life is transformed.

The basic premise would have us believe a sort of wizardry parallel universe exists where the magical ones rove backwards and forwards unbeknownst to normal folk (or Muggles) carrying out their mystical work. Once at school, Harry makes friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the trio embark on all manner of adventures centred around the enigmatic Philosopher's Stone.

There's obviously far more to it than that, but in a nutshell it's a rollercoaster little mystery with shades of the Famous Five, Scooby Doo and Poirot all rolled into one - and on broomsticks too!

Just about everything from the book gets a look in - Fluffy the three-headed dog, the Invisibility Cloak and, of course, Quidditch remaining favourites. Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman have pantomime levels of fun as Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape respectively and the only drawback to the whole thing really is the slightly glossy finish.

It can get a bit overblown at times with a few heavy handed touches which betray the American involvement - and the child appeal is played up much more than in the book with the result that it may not prove as popular with adults on screen as it did in prose. However, as an adaptation of such a famous work it succeeds on most levels and is an apt start to what looks set to be the franchise to outstrip all franchises.