Instructor Chris Columbus remembers feeling a sense of horror when he signed on to instruct Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the late 1990s. “I took on this job where billions of people had to scrutinize every single movement,” he tells Polygon on the occasion of the film’s 20th anniversary. “So strangely enough, every decision was important, every decision would ultimately affect what would come later.”
The first Harry Potter film debuted in theaters on November 14, 2001, making Potter book fever a worldwide phenomenon. Led by 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, The Wizard’s Stone was paramount in the creation of the visual design of the first film, which would continue not only in the subsequent films, but also in the future of Harry Potter’s multimedia, including amusement parks built in its image. But in 2001, only four books had been published, leaving the exact direction of the series unknown to filmmakers and audiences. What Columbus did knows, however, from conversations with author JK Rowling that the books would be grim – and that ultimately helped determine the scenography.
“We’ve put the fact into the design that these sets should start with a kind of history book form of warm imagination,” he explained. “And as the series progressed, we had to use the same sets and create a darker world.”
Columbus directed the first two Potter films and went on to produce the third, but was not involved in the later adaptations. However, his early play held on, from the Quidditch uniforms to the Great Hall. Some, like the scenography, were conscious choices, but others were a matter of throwing luck.
“Voldemort in the first film was not played [Ralph] Fiennes, but he almost looks like him, ”says Columbus. “It is interesting to me that you can watch these films back to back without any problems with regard to Oh, that was Voldemort. To was Fiennes in the first film. We were lucky with it. “
For the most part, Columbus remains pleased with how the choices from the first film went on to define the following seven films. But there is one things he still thinks they did not quite get right.
“Harry’s scar was so incredibly hard to get right. I do not know if we have ever done that to be honest with you, ”he says. “But we struggled with it for months. When you work with children under 16 or something, you can not really use dentures, or you could not then. We could not really use a prosthetic, which is some of what I saw, like a real scar. It’s the one detail and important detail that I wish I could go back and adjust. “