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Warner Bros. Picks Columbus to Direct First ‘Harry Potter’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After considering a list of candidates that included Robert Zemeckis, Brad Silberling and Terry Gilliam--and being turned down by Steven Spielberg--Warner Bros. has signed “Home Alone” director Chris Columbus to take the reins on “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which is already shaping up to be the event film of summer 2001.

Speaking from Scotland where he is meeting with Potter creator J.K. Rowling, Columbus said he was “incredibly excited” about directing the first film of a Potter book. “My oldest daughter, Eleanor, who is 10, got me into the books over a year ago. Between my four kids and all their friends, I’ve heard a lot about what this movie should be and how I could ruin it if I cut this or that scene. I won’t let anyone down. It will be a faithful adaptation.”

Production is due to start this summer, and Harry will “without a doubt” be played by a British actor, says Columbus, quashing speculation that an American actor along the lines of Haley Joel Osment would be assigned the highly coveted role.

In addition to the wildly successful “Home Alone” films, Columbus also directed the hit Robin Williams comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Stepmom,” starring Julia Roberts, and the recent disappointment “Bicentennial Man.” Columbus had previously written such effects-driven, kid-oriented movies as “Gremlins,” “Goonies” and “Young Sherlock Holmes"--all produced by Spielberg.

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Based on the first of seven planned children’s novels about the eponymous exploits of an apprentice wizard by British author Rowling, Potter is already a phenomenon on the order of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Warner Bros. is hoping it will kick the 21st century revenues of the film division of the planned America Online/Time Warner conglomerate into high gear.

“Since the books have generated such a passionate following across the world, it was important to us to find a director that has an affinity for both children and magic,” Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of worldwide production at Warner Bros., said in a prepared statement.

Spielberg had right of first refusal on the film and recently passed on it in favor of another Warner Bros. project, “A.I.,” a science-fiction film about artificial intelligence based on an idea by the late Stanley Kubrick. It’s also due for release probably in summer 2001. Spielberg is writing the “A.I.” screenplay and will commence production in July. In addition, Spielberg will produce, but not direct, the third “Jurassic Park” film, set for release next summer as well.

The script for Potter has been written by Steve Kloves (“The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Wonder Boys”), and Columbus says he got the assignment after he and other directors met with Warner Bros. senior executives. “I think they were fair to all the directors involved,” said Columbus. “I met with them for about an hour or an hour and a half, and delivered some notes about the screenplay and the visual style. They obviously liked what I had to say.”

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