Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens here today on 20 screens at six theaters, a record number of screens for the Birmingham market.
It’s showing on four screens each at the Summit, Trussville and Wildwood theaters, three each at the Carmike and Festival and two at the Brook Highland.
By our best calculations, the previous record-holder here was Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, which opened on 16 screens at five theaters in 1999.
Nationwide, Harry Potter is supposed to open on as many as 5,000 screens.
Director Chris Columbus, best known for Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Home Alone movies, says he knew better than to mess around with J.K. Rowling’s much-beloved novel when he agreed to adapt Harry Potter for the screen.
The audience, he says, wouldn’t stand for it.
“I’d heard these horrendous and actually quite amusing stories about how certain directors had wanted to adapt the book like changing the locale to a Hollywood high school or turning Harry, Ron and Hermione into American students or making the entire film a computer-animated picture,” Columbus says in the movie’s press notes.
“I was stunned by some of these notions. I mean, it all feels painfully obvious to me. There’s a reason why millions of children and adults have fallen in love with the Harry Potter books. To destroy the basic foundation of this world and these characters would alienate our audience.”
Richard Harris, the legendary British actor who plays the wise, old Professor Dumbledore, almost didn’t take the part until he got a threatening phone call from none other than his 11-year-old granddaughter Ellie.
“Ellie telephoned me and said, quite simply, `Papa, if you don’t play Dumbledore, I will never speak to you again,’” Harris recalls. “So I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”
Pay close attention to that scene at the Gringotts Bank.
That’s Verne Troyer best known as Mini-Me from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me playing the goblin bank teller Griphook.
Daniel Radcliffe, meet Anne Robinson.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph following the London premiere of Harry Potter, 9-year-old guest critic Jessica Hatrick called the picture “the best movie I have ever seen.”
But she wasn’t quite so kind to the movie’s young star, the British actor Radcliffe.
“He’s a good actor,” Jessica wrote, “but he looks like the woman on The Weakest Link, which is a bit off-putting.”
Before casting Radcliffe, Columbus calculates he auditioned more than 2,000 potential Harry Potters.
The answer, though, was sitting on a shelf in his office a video copy of the TV movie David Copperfield, in which Radcliffe played the younger Copperfield.
“I picked up the video box,” Columbus says, “pointed to Dan’s face and said, `This is who I want. This is Harry Potter.’”
Then, by coincidence, Columbus and producer David Heyman ran into Alan Radcliffe, an agent whom Heyman knows, at the theater. Sitting with Radcliffe and his wife, Marcia, was their son, Daniel.
Call it fate.
“Lightning struck and the skies opened,” Heyman recalls. “All through the second half of the play, I couldn’t concentrate.”
One person who wasn’t so wild about a Harry movie was the boy wonder himself, the precocious Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense.
“Harry Potter is 70 percent imagination,” Osment said in an interview last fall. “When the movie comes out, it’s going to be such a stereotype for kids. They think of Harry Potter, they’re going to think of what is portrayed on screen.”
And contrary to rumor, Osment also denied he was ever in the running to play Harry.
“I never wanted to do Harry Potter,” he said. “I thought it should have stayed as a book.”