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Hollywood analysis: Poor Harry Potter

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Feb. 25, 2002 at 8:56 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the top U.S. box-office attraction of 2001 with $314.3 million and still counting, came up short when the Oscar nominations were announced -- but if the boy wizard wants to cry all the way to the bank, he has plenty of other commercially successful Oscar busts to keep him company.

The movie version of the first of author J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful series of books was released amid great fanfare last November and has become the second biggest box-office hit in the world, with grosses amounting to more than $922 million.

"Titanic" holds the record with $1.8 billion in ticket sales worldwide.

"Titanic" -- James Cameron's 1996 maritime disaster epic -- also shares the two most important Oscar records, with 14 nominations (tied with "All About Eve") and 11 Oscars (tied with "Ben-Hur"). "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" managed just three Oscar nominations -- for best original score (John Williams), art direction and costume design.

Warner Bros. may not have scored with the Oscar voters, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

The production staff assembled to work with director Chris Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Home Alone") included movie veterans with lots of Oscar nominations -- and a few wins -- among them.

For starters, they hired Williams to compose the music.

The 70-year-old Williams has more Oscar nominations, 41, than any other living person. He has won five times -- for "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), "Jaws" (1975), "Stars Wars" (1977), "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) and "Schindler's List" (1993).

Ironically, there is a chance Williams could win this year without giving "Harry Potter" an Oscar -- since he is also nominated for "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."

Production designer Stuart Craig is a three-time Oscar winner for art direction -- for "The English Patient" (with Stephanie McMillan, 1996), "Dangerous Liaisons" (with Gerard James, 1988) and "Gandhi" (with Bob Laing and Michael Seirton, 1982).

The Harry Potter crew also included screenwriter Steve Kloves, who was nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar last year for "Wonder Boys." His adaptation of "The Sorcerer's Stone" went largely unrecognized during the awards season.

Producers also hired Kloves to adapt the second and third Harry Potter features, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," due in theaters this year, and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," set for a 2004 release.

The cinematographer on "The Sorcerer's Stone" was John Seale -- best known for shooting "The Perfect Storm" in 2000 and two previous best picture Oscar winners -- "The English Patient" and "Rain Man" (1988). Editor Richard Francis-Brice worked on best picture nominees "The Green Mile" (1999) and "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994).

Just as the high-profile, highly decorated production staff was insufficient to procure Oscar gold for Harry Potter, world-class box-office numbers also failed to make an impression on Academy voters. Actually, among the top 10 U.S. blockbusters of all-time, "Titanic" and "Forrest Gump" are the only pictures to bring home big-time Oscars.

"Titanic" won for best picture, director (Cameron), song ("My Heart Will Go On," by James Horner and Will Jennings), art direction, cinematography (Russell Carpenter), costume design, film editing, original dramatic score (Horner), sound, sound effects editing and visual effects.

All that, and $600.8 million domestic!

"Forrest Gump" grossed a sensational $329.7 million at U.S. theaters in 1994, but that didn't stop the Academy from giving it best picture, director (Robert Zemeckis), actor (Tom Hanks), adapted screenplay (Eric Roth), film editing and visual effects.

The second biggest U.S. hit of all time, "Star Wars" received lots of nominations in 1977 -- best picture, director (George Lucas), supporting actor (Alec Guinness) and original screenplay (Lucas). In head-to-head competition with best picture winner "Annie Hall" and visual effects extravaganza "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Star Wars" did well to take home Oscars for art direction, costume design, film editing, original score, sound, sound effects and visual effects.

"Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was shut out at the Academy Awards, despite grossing $431.1 million. Its best chances for Oscar gold -- film editing, sound, sound effects editing and visual effects -- went to the Keanu Reeves high-tech sci-fi fantasy, "The Matrix."

Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi fantasy "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," took in $399.8 million and earned nominations for best picture, director and original screenplay (Melissa Mathison) but only took home statuettes for best original score (Williams), sound, sound effect editing and visual effects.

Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park" collected $357.1 million to go with three technical Oscars -- sound, sound effects editing and visual effects.

"The Lion King" (1994, $312.9 million) won for best song, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" by Tim Rice and Elton John -- who were also nominated for "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata." "Return of the Jedi" (1983, $309.1 million) settled for a special achievement award for visual effects. "Independence Day" (1996, $306.2 million) was also awarded a special achievement award for visual effects.

The third and fourth highest-grossing pictures of 2001 -- "Shrek" ($267.7 million) and "Monsters, Inc." ($252 million) -- didn't get much to cheer about when the Oscar nominations were announced, although both were nominated in the new category of best animated feature.

"Shrek" was nominated for adapted screenplay. "Monsters, Inc." was nominated for best score and song (Randy Newman) and visual effects.

On the other hand, the second-biggest box-office hit of the year -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" -- stands on the brink of having it both ways.

With a running total of $282.5 million, and 14th place on the list of all-time U.S. box-office hits, director Peter Jackson's screen adaptation of the first book of author J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy about an epic battle between good and evil in Middle-earth is up for 13 Oscars, including best picture.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was a five-time winner Sunday at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards -- winning for best film and picking up the Orange award, given to the top picture as voted by the public.

The BAFTA success puts Jackson and company in good position for a big night when the Oscars are handed out on March 24, since the BAFTA best film winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar four out of the last six years.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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