‘Potter’ planted

WB gives 'Harry' magic wand to Columbus

Warner Bros. Pictures has handed the keys to the “Harry Potter” kingdom to director Chris Columbus.

With his selection to helm “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first adaptation of the bestselling “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling, Columbus’ 1492 Pictures may also drop anchor at the studio.

The director of “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Bicentennial Man,” Columbus will launch what is expected to be a long-running and lucrative “Potter” franchise, with another possible six installments to follow.

After Steven Spielberg passed on directing the film in favor of writing and directing “A.I.” for the studio, Warners considered more than a dozen A-listers for the prime “Potter” gig, including Brad Silberling, Ivan Reitman, Terry Gilliam and Jonathan Demme.

Columbus’ commitment to “Potter” also makes it likely that 1492 will land on the Warner Bros. lot. Although Columbus has spent the past six years at Fox, his second consecutive first-look deal there will expire late this spring (Daily Variety, Feb. 24).

Columbus and partners Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe have had discussions with Sony about moving their shingle to Columbia Pictures, where the director helmed “Stepmom” and “Bicentennial Man.” Sources have indicated that Columbus’ deal would probably land at the same studio for which he made his next picture. No talks are under way at Warners regarding a production deal with Columbus, however.

‘Potter’ plot

The “Potter” series charts the exploits of Harry Potter, who learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and that he possesses unique magical powers of his own.

Warners sought a director for “Potter” with a complex skill set: The helmer had to have a knack for working with children, a taste for dark comedy and an edgy sense of humor — while producing a film designed to be a long-running, mass-market franchise.

Before Columbus launched his directing career with the “Home Alone” franchise, he was one of Hollywood’s hottest screenwriters, penning “Gremlins,” “Goonies” and “Young Sherlock Holmes” — all of which dealt with children and magic.

“Harry Potter is the kind of timeless literary achievement that comes around once in a lifetime,” said Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president, worldwide production for Warner Bros. Pictures. “Since the books have generated such a passionate following across the world, it was important to us to find a director who has an affinity for both children and magic. I can’t think of anyone more ideally suited for this job than Chris.”

Warners had more than its share of candidates who were happy to jump through those hoops, and then some. While final cut usually comes with the territory for Hollywood’s top helmers, for “Potter” it may be beside the point. Sources said the ultimate arbiter for the film’s tone is not the director, or even studio chief Alan Horne, but Rowling, the author of the blockbuster series.

Columbus was unavailable for comment Tuesday: After making his deal with the studio Monday, he booked a flight to London to meet Rowling for the first time.

Four’s a plan

Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the first four books in the series through British producer David Heyman. Rowling’s series is projected to include seven books. The adaptation of “Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first title in the series, was written by Steve Kloves (“The Fabulous Baker Boys”). Produc-tion is expected to begin late this summer, with a release date of summer 2001.

Subsequent titles thus far in the series are “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” The fourth title, “Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament,” will not be published until July 8, but advance orders have currently made the book No. 1 on the Amazon.com bestseller list.

The length of the “Potter” yarns continues to skyrocket along with their sales. The page count on the first three books were 309, 341 and 435, respectively, and “Doomspell” is expected to top out at more than 700 pages in length.

Columbus is repped by CAA.

(Michael Fleming and Jonathan Bing contributed to this report.)

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