Before the merry 'Harry' holidays

"Who is this Potter fellow, and why is he hairy?" That's my 12-year-old niece's favorite tease, imitating dimwitted adults (like me) who wouldn't know Professor McGonagall from Nearly Headless Nick.

In my family, Nov. 16 is underlined, circled, and highlighted on every calendar. That's the opening date for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the movie based on the first of J.K. Rowling's four children's books.

My niece plans to attend the film dressed as Hermione Granger, who I gather is a close associate of "this Potter fellow." I am assigned the character Fred Weasley. I may decline, but if so, I'll simply be a Muggle (whatever that is).

Already, some predict the "Harry Potter" movie could soar into "Titanic" territory. But it will have to share the holiday market with a big-budget version of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings," which will hit theaters Dec. 19. Both these movies could begin "Stars Wars"-type franchises that will last for years to come.

Before then, some 100 other new movies will light up screens around the United States. Among the other books adapted for movies will be yet another go at H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine," the umpteenth telling of Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers" ("The Musketeer"), and "The Shipping News," one of two fall pictures headlining two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.

Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Gwenyth Paltrow, and many, many more stars will join Spacey with at least two new movies this fall. Look to the right, to film critic David Sterritt, for more on the new season.

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