Director Chris Columbus recalls feeling a sense of dread when he signed on to direct Harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone at the end of the 1990s. “I was undertaking this work where billions of people would scrutinize every movement,” he told JeuxServer, on the occasion of the film’s 20th anniversary. “So oddly, every decision was important, every decision would end up affecting what came later.”
The first Harry Potter film debuted in theaters on November 14, 2001 and made Potter book fever a worldwide phenomenon. Led by 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe the sorcerer’s stone was paramount in establishing the visual design for the first film, which would continue not only in subsequent films but also in Harry Potter’s multimedia future, including theme parks built in his image. But by 2001, only four books had been published, leaving the exact direction of the series unknown to filmmakers and audiences. That Columbus made Know, however, from conversations with author JK Rowling, that the books would turn dark – and that ultimately informed the set design.
“We’ve built into the design that these sets have to start with some kind of storybook, a fantastic warm feeling,” he explains. “And then as the series progressed, we had to use the same sets and create a darker world.”
Columbus directed the first two Potter films and produced the third, but was not involved in subsequent adaptations. However, his early bets remained, from Quidditch uniforms to the Great Hall. Some, like the set design, were deliberate choices, but others were a matter of luck.
“Voldemort in the first movie was not played by [Ralph] Fiennes, but he looks almost exactly like him, ”says Columbus. “It’s interesting to me that you can watch these movies back to back without a hitch in terms of Oh, that was Voldemort. This was Fiennes in the first film. We lucked out with that one.
For the most part, Columbus remains happy with how the first film picks defined the next seven films. But there is a something he still thinks they didn’t quite get.
“Harry’s scar was incredibly difficult to mend. I don’t know if we’ve ever been really honest with you, ”he says. “But we struggled with this for months. When you’re working with kids under 16, or something, you can’t really use prosthetics, or you couldn’t back then. We couldn’t really use a prosthetic scar, which is kind of what I saw, like a real scar. This is the only detail, an important detail, that I wish I could go back and polish.