Going Hogwarts over 'Harry'

Can an 11-year-old magician with a lightning bolt on his forehead reignite the American economy, put an end to terrorism, and bring about world peace?

Well, the latter two might be beyond the wave of his magic wand. But little else may be. The movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," opening today, promises to set records for being on the most screens ever (Variety estimates 7,000 of the 40,000 in the United States), taking in the most money ever on an opening weekend, and maybe, just maybe, being the biggest movie of all time.

Just why are we so wild about "Harry"? Do the movie and its numerous spinoff products ruin the experience of reading the book? (See our cover story at right for some thoughts on that.)

When you peel away the hype and look at the film, how good is it? Movie critic David Sterritt takes on that question (page 15). And what's it like to direct - or star in - a film with such soaring expectations from fans? See our interviews with director Chris Columbus and young Daniel Radcliffe on page 17.

Will "Harry" bring people out to malls, make people feel good about themselves, and promote spending again? (For that matter, could "Potter" merchandise alone jump-start the economy?) That's hard to say, but it can't hurt.

Do kids need the "Harry Potter Electronic Quidditch Game" ($35 retail) and its ilk to be happy this Christmas? Or, with imagination, will they find that any old stick transforms into a magic wand?

Mom or Dad may take the kids in the minivan to the multiplex for this movie, but one suspects that, in their heads, the youngsters will be flying home on their very own Nimbus 2000 broomsticks.

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