EXTRA: Harry Potter Goes Hollywood

Some call it magic, but we say it’s the ultimate revenge of the four-eyed nerd.

As promised, Warner Bros. today introduced us to Harry Potter – or, more precisely, to 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, who’ll play the world’s most famous kid in the studio’s forthcoming big-screen adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The lucky kid is an utter unknown who, thanks to the signature circular-framed glasses and hair, bears more than a passing resemblance to the fantasy book hero.

“We saw so many enormously talented kids in the search for Harry,” Chris Columbus, the flick’s director, says on the Warners Web site (www.wb.com). “The process was intense and there were times when we felt we would never find an individual who embodied the complex spirit and depth of Harry Potter. Then, Dan walked into the room and we all knew we had found Harry.”

The search for a real-life Harry began in England a few months back with an open casting call. Two other key roles were also filled: Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, two more unknowns with experience mostly limited to school plays, will play Harry’s pals, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

For those living on another planet, the Harry Potter thing has been all the rage since “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — the first of a seven-part series envisioned by author J.K. Rowling — was published in 1998. So far, four “Harry Potter” books have been published, and a fifth comes out in November 2001.

The speed at which Rowling cranks out the books out is matched only by the speed at which they fly off the bookstore shelves. An estimated 35 million copies of the first three books have been sold so far, and nearly 400,000 copies of the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” were pre-sold on Amazon.com before it was published July 8.

The first three Harry Potter books are hogging so many spots on the New York Times Review bestseller list that the newspaper launched a separate children’s bestseller list on July 23, to assuage complaining adult-book authors who felt the kid stuff was invading their turf.

In a nutshell, the Harry Potter yarn is about a boy cultivating wizardry skills in a special magic-boarding school. The series has been lauded for its imagination, inventiveness and the rare accomplishment of turning kids away from their flashy video games and TV to, believe it or not, old-fashion reading.

But perhaps more important to Warners is the series’ ability to attract and sustain a dedicated following — those seven-to-15-year-olds who have their parents’ wallets at their disposal.

But the question remains: Will Harry Potter fly on film?

We asked the experts. Linda Dimitroff of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles says chances are good, provided that the adaptation sticks to what the book is famous for: that illusive magical quality that keeps kiddies coming back.

“It depends on how much they stick to the story. Unfortunately, a lot of films get made and they take the essence out of the [original] story. And I hope they don’t do that to ‘Harry Potter,'” Dimitroff tells Hollywood.com.

Though the plot to the film has not yet been disclosed, the studio’s choice in picking Radcliffe for the main part did serve to quiet a lot of people, including Dimitroff’s, worry.

“I think the film needs to preserve the British charm. And it pretty much needs to pick an unknown for the role because all the kids who’ve read the books already have a picture of harry potter on their mind. And a big star would ruin that for the kids.”

Word has it that Warners is hoping to turn the book series into a cinematic franchise, with such ambitious talks as adapting all seven installments onto the big screen.

Regardless the quality of the first film, Dimitroff speculates that kids, and a lot of them, will probably go see the it out of sheer loyalty. But she also warns that such fidelity is not to be counted on if the film does stink, since, knowing kids, if they don’t like the first one, they’re unlikely to return for the second, or the seventh, time.