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November 13, 2001

Can Fantasy Take Flight?
Mary McNamara

Every moviemaker will tell you it's all about the story. Director, producer, screenwriter, animator will look you straight in the eye and say, "It's all about the story." Even when it comes to fantasy. Especially when it comes to fantasy.

If this is true, then the one-two-punch openings of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Friday) and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (Dec. 19), the first installment of Peter Jackson's film version of "The Lord of the Rings," should make box-office history. There's nothing wrong with either of those stories, as book sales and slavish reader devotion have proved.

The first four volumes of what author J.K. Rowling promises will be a seven-book Harry Potter series have sold more than 100 million copies in just four years, making it the publishing phenomenon of the past decade.

Since its publication in 1954, 50 million copies of "The Lord of the Rings," J.R.R. Tolkien's 1,110-page trilogy, have been sold; it was named Book of the Century by Waterstone's bookstore chain.

The trailers for both "Harry Potter" and "Fellowship" have generated more heat than most feature films. For "Harry Potter," children fly on broomsticks, levitating candles light a cavernous dining room, staircases unhitch themselves and move like serpents. For "Fellowship," waist-high hobbits, elves and dwarfs, men and one wise wizard battle goblin-like orcs, faceless black riders, a chain-wielding troll and a fire-breathing creature as they attempt to destroy a magic ring that would enslave them.

The built-in audience of fans alone should ensure otherworldly opening-weekend numbers, and the studios know it. Warner Bros. handed "Harry Potter" director Chris Columbus $100 million, and New Line has bet the farm: At $300 million, Jackson's trilogy represents the future of the studio. Of the two, "Harry Potter" easily has the better odds—the characters were celebrities long before the movie was cast, and each new book in the series is awaited like manna from heaven—but either project is easy money if it's all about the story.

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