Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Nov. 19, 2001 at 4:38 PM
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As predicted, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is breaking box office records right and left, adding its bespectacled star to the ranks of classical heroes.

On its first day in release the film version of author J.K. Rowling's astonishingly successful children's books "Harry Potter" registered a reported $31 million from 7,000 screens.

Its opening weekend gross topped $93 million, also a record.

The triumph of "Harry Potter" is reminiscent and characteristic of the power of fantasy abetted by willingness of filmgoers to abdicate reality for the delights of illusion to escape reality.

The phenomenon was evident during the Great Depression in 1937 with Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," as clouds of World War II fulminated in Europe and Asia.

That animated classic was followed in 1939 by the magical wonder of live actors in "The Wizard of Oz," on the brink of America's entry into the war.

Now, in the shadow of terrorist attacks on this country, "Harry Potter" has arrived to enchant millions of people, relieving them for two and a half hours of the terrors of yet another war.

Comparisons are made between author Rowling and L. Frank Baum, author of the classic Oz books.

Both writers rely heavily on magic, dazzling creatures and pure-of-heart heroes to enchant their readers. Like Baum, Rowling has been a significant force in encouraging children and young people to turn off television sets for the engaging experience of reading books.

Many critics of the Warner Bros. version of "Harry Potter" have been less than enthusiastic in their assessment of the film, complaining it is too long for many in its youthful audience.

But critics are old people who complain the movie stuck too closely to the book. These same critics would have groused had the picture veered too sharply from Rowling's text.

In any event "Harry Potter" has brought a new hero to uncounted millions; new worlds and creatures to fire youthful and adult imaginations alike.

Most fascinating of all is a gothic academy attended by Harry called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where the fantastic and grotesque are commonplace and wildly bizarre.

The film reaffirms the awesome power of wizards and the mysteries of floating canes, a winged ball called the Golden Snitch, invisibility cloaks and many other wonders to absorb and ponder.

The title character is faithful to the Rowling book and played straight by Daniel Radcliffe as the 11-year-old hero. He perfectly fits the image Rowling presents her books.

"Harry Potter" lacks the toe-tapping music of "Snow White" -- "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho It's Off to Work We Go" -- and the performances of Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger in "The Wizard of Oz." But it has its own charms and intrigue.

Unlike many films expressly made for children, "Harry Potter" also captivates adults while their offspring sit attentively fascinated by Harry and his adventures.

The English cast is one of the best assembled for a single movie:

John Cleese as Nearly Headless Nick; Richard Harris as headmaster Albus Dumbledore; Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, Robbie Coltrane as gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, John Hurt as Mr. Ollivander and Julie Walters as Molly Weasley.

Overall, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" captures the magic intended by Rowling through amazing special effects, creating excitement with some astonishingly scary scenes not unlike those found in Disney films of the genre.

The plethora of English accents and terms add to the charm of the picture, fortunately eliminating the slangy linguistic short-cuts and valley girl clichés commonly found in Hollywood's youth films.

Rowling already has written three additional "Harry Potter" novels and hopes to write a total of seven, establishing a franchise that should tap into the movie gold mine in days to come.

The films might challenge the "Star Wars" and "Godfather" series for box-office records.

We may be sure Santa Claus, along with parents, will be overwhelmed this holiday season with requests from small-fry for Harry Potter merchandise of every sort.

Young Potter has been an icon for readers for several years, but the storm of popularity of the movie is certain to increase the demand for more films about the intrepid youngster.

Moviegoers the world over will become as entranced with Harry and his companions as previous generations were over Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy and Bashful.

Doubtless, Rowling's fascinating new characters will take their place in film lore beside Dorothy Gale, Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion in the panoply of unforgettable fictional movie characters.

If one hopes to stay comfortably in touch with this young generation it would be well to see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" soon.

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