By EW Staff
Updated August 24, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT


STARRING Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman

WRITTEN BY Steve Kloves

DIRECTED BY Chris Columbus

THE PITCH ”A boy on a journey.” — Kloves

Chances are that even if you haven’t read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, you know at least one child who’s yammered on about the British boy wizard with the lightning-bolt scar. Still, allow us to set the stage for the first of what’s projected to be seven Potter movies. Newcomers Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson play (respectively) Potter and friends Ron and Hermione, students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harris is the wizened Professor Dumbledore, Rickman is the suspicious Professor Snape, and Robbie Coltrane is Hagrid, the school’s gruff and lumbering groundskeeper. For a detailed plot synopsis, read the book.

”One of the first things I said to Warner Bros. was ‘The book is the movie,”’ says scripter Kloves (Wonder Boys), who began his adaptation in early 1999, when American Pottermania was just beginning to materialize. ”It was all there. It was just about getting it all in in an artful way.” In fact, one of the film’s closely guarded secrets is what didn’t make it from page to screen. Says a coy Columbus: ”We preserved 95 percent of the big moments.”

Potter’s cinematic sojourn began in 1997 when London-based producer David Heyman began looking for a children’s property he could turn into a family movie. After his assistant suggested Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the book and movie’s U.K. title), Heyman fell hard, and within days was lunching with Rowling. Still, he says, ”I don’t think any of us knew what we had. Who could anticipate Harry would sell over 100 million copies worldwide?” Heyman credits Kloves’ script for getting Potter rolling in late ’99. After a flirtation with Steven Spielberg, Heyman and Warner Bros. auditioned a number of directors, a process that was dubbed a ”bake-off” by the Hollywood trades.

”I brought cookies to every meeting,” jokes Columbus, who got the job by pledging to remain faithful to the book and committing to an all-British cast. Despite a long search for a Harry, the Mrs. Doubtfire director was able to cast his first choice, though only after assuaging the fears of Radcliffe’s parents about the rigors of a reported $125 million production. The top secret shoot, which stretched for 130 days due to British labor laws that permit child actors to work only four hours a day, was well worth the effort, says Columbus, who believes his cast and crew have delivered the goods. ”I feel we’ve been faithful,” he says. ”And I feel we did it for the fans.” Jitters? You bet — though not for the reason you’d think. ”There will be nervousness,” he says, ”because two days later we start shooting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then it starts all over again.” (Nov. 16)


STARRING the voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly