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"Fans would have been crushed if we had left too much out," says Columbus, whose adaptation runs a whopping 143 minutes. "My mantra has been, Kids are reading a 700-page book. They can sit through a 2 1/2-hour movie." The book he is referring to is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, fourth in the series, which was published last year (at 734 pages, to be exact) and currently holds the record as the fastest-selling book in history--at least until the fifth Potter, which is expected in 2002. Says Columbus: "Instead of trying to overtake the readers' imagination, we've just given them the best possible version of the book, which means steeping it in reality...I wanted kids to feel that if they actually took that train, Hogwarts would be waiting for them." Indeed, from the moth-eaten tapestry of the dormitory common room to the well-worn Sorting Hat, which divides the first-year Hogwarts students into houses by reading their minds (as in the book, it speaks to the students and assigns Harry to Gryffindor house, but it does not sing), Sorcerer's Stone does have a dusty verite.
Lest we burden Sorcerer's Stone with expectations too great, however, we must note that it is not a perfect movie. Critics will certainly point out that the book is a more transporting piece of entertainment. (The movie assumes a sometimes too-heavy load in its ambitious attempt to bring all the novel's most memorable elements to the screen.) And child actors often require some patience on the part of viewers. Sorcerer's Stone marks the movie debut of Rupert Grint, 13, and Emma Watson, 11, who play Harry's friends Ron and Hermione. Daniel Radcliffe, the 12-year-old who already has a number of websites devoted to him, thanks to his role as the title character, starred in the BBC's 1999 production of David Copperfield and this year's spy flick The Tailor of Panama. What British producer David Heyman calls a "brutal" search for the right Harry ended only weeks before the film went into production in September 2000. "He had to embody so many qualities--vulnerability and strength, an inner life," says Heyman, who secured the movie rights for Warner Bros. for the bargain price of $700,000 before the books became a global phenomenon. (Tanya Seghatchian, a development executive in Heyman's company, read the first book after it was published in Britain and was moved to tears by the scene in which the orphaned Harry sees his dead parents for the first time in the Mirror of Erised--"Desire" spelled backward.) Columbus praises his young star's "tendency to play things so subtly," though some may wish he seemed a bit more rowdy, like the Harry in the books.
At the same time, for fans of the novels, there will be much pleasure in seeing Sorcerer's Stone brought to the screen with all the attention to detail that a budget north of $125 million can buy. And those familiar with Columbus' previous work will be glad to know that he hasn't poured on too much sugar. Despite his solid box-office track record, Columbus, 43, wasn't a natural choice for the much-sought-after Potter job. Even Steven Spielberg was eyeing it at one point, envisioning a computer-animated film, like Toy Story, with Haley Joel Osment supplying Harry's voice. Rowling, says Warner Bros. Pictures chief Alan Horn, "hoped that whoever brought it to the big screen would not take it in a direction toward sappiness."