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'Potter' magic proves enchanting - but only for a short spell

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Harry Potter has ridden his broomstick into multiplexes everywhere. In a telling sign of our times, responses to the movie's arrival have focused at least as much on its financial prospects as on its cultural worth or entertainment value.

Will the 11-year-old wizard sink the international box-office record - a towering $1.8 billion - set by "Titanic" a few short years ago? Will soft drinks, construction kits, and other tie-in products fly off shopping-mall shelves on the strength of his magical appeal? Will the four J.K. Rowling books about his adventures sell a million more copies as the movie adds to their mystique?

Such questions are understandable, given the astonishing success of Rowling's series. The four books published so far have reportedly sold 116 million copies in 47 languages in 200 countries. In an age when cultural events are reported on with a statistical glee once reserved for the sports pages, it's not surprising that media attention is riveted on how much return Warner Bros. will reap for its investments of more than $120 million in the film's production and more than $40 million in the initial marketing campaign.

But none of this sheds light on the one question that really matters as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" finally opens: Is it a good movie? The answer is yes, with reservations.

In terms of craft, energy, and traditional fantasy-film fun, there's much to celebrate. Steve Kloves's screenplay dodges the temptation to improve on its source, staying as faithful to Rowling's book as Harry's friend Hagrid is to Albus Dumbledore, the master wizard they both love. Chris Columbus has directed the movie in the same spirit, bringing the novel's characters and events to life through colorful images that make a world of spells and sorcery seem as solid as the one we travel every day.

What you won't find are qualities a truly great movie adaptation might have offered - new layers of meaning, perspectives on the story that only film images could provide, fresh insights into the tale's moral and ethical questions.


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