LOS ANGELES, May 28 (UPI) -- Last year's biggest hit movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," is back on Tuesday, May 28, this time in VHS and DVD format. The two-disc DVD set contains lots of games, puzzles, tours, deleted scenes, interviews, and surprises.
In its theatrical release, "Harry Potter" proved absorbing for aficionados and good enough for everybody else.
As the lights dimmed at the advanced screening, third-grader William turned to his friends and exclaimed, "Guys, we are about to see the most famous movie ever made!"
That kind of audience anticipation has fueled expectations that the planned seven movie "Harry Potter" franchise ought to rake in several billion dollars at the box office. After all, J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" fantasy novels, the first four of which have sold about 100 million copies in 47 languages, could become the first $2 billion-grossing book series.
Rowling's stories about wholesome young wizards and witches at the Hogwarts boarding school are exactly the kind of first-rate middlebrow books that make the best movies. (Witness "The Wizard of Oz" or "Gone with the Wind.")
Rowling may not quite be a great writer herself (although the lucidity of her prose style deserves high praise), but she knows to borrow from the best: Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, and so many other geniuses who, in that peculiar but wonderful British tradition, chose to write for kids.
In an era when the children's section of bookstores are weighted down with bland multiculturalist fare of the "Lo-Ming and N!xao Celebrate Cinco de Mayo" ilk, the children of the world have responded to Rowling's unabashed Britishness. For 150 years, the British have been the world champs at writing kid's books, and Rowling fearlessly draws upon that rich tradition.
Rowling, whose initials hide her sex from miniature male chauvinists (my older boy was disturbed to discover his favorite author was a woman), wisely chose to make the hero and best friend boys. Little girls are more likely than little boys to accept their sex reduced to playing third banana.
Let's take a moment to empathize with the Warner Bros. executives who had to choose a director to make their crucial first installment. Naturally, they asked Steven Spielberg, but when he eventually walked away, they faced a quandary. So, they interviewed such creative and distinctive directors as Terry Gilliam ("Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs"), Alan Parker ("Pink Floyd: The Wall"), and other artists who could stamp their personal vision on the film and, if all the constellations were aligned right, just might bring home something unique.
Then, the studio brass hired the uncreative and indistinctive Chris Columbus, director of such efforts as "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire."
With $126 million to spend, Columbus must have felt a little like a general given an enormous army and told, "Just don't lose." Admiral J.R. Jellicoe, commander of Britain's Grand Fleet during World War I, had little opportunity to distinguish himself by winning a battle against long odds, since he directed the most formidable fleet yet assembled. Instead, he had to bear the knowledge that "he was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon."
Columbus and screenwriter Steven Kloves ("Wonder Boys") decided to emphasize craftsmanship over their own creativity. They kept the movie as faithful to its book as any film ever made, leading young William to shout out, "That's exactly what I expected the wand shop to be like."
The result: it works. Columbus not only avoids losing the war in one afternoon, but he wins a clear-cut victory. The kids at the screening were ecstatic. Peter, my 9-year-old, who read all four books last April, called it, "The best movie I ever saw." The millions of adults who've read the book should be highly pleased, and the rest should be entertained without being baffled.
Rated PG for the H-word and scenes that will scare preschoolers.