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Telling "Secrets"

Director Chris Columbus Adapts "The Chamber of Secrets"

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Steve Kloves. Produced by David Heyman. A Warner Bros. release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language. Opens 11/15.

That old black magic has us in its spell. Of course, boy wizard-in-training Harry Potter is a white-lighter all the way, but there is no light without dark. Epic battles of good-versus-evil are fought with imagination to spare in J.K. Rowling's wildly popular "Harry Potter" series of children's novels that have quickly found their way onto just as many grown-ups' bookshelves.

For all the Muggles (non-magical persons) out there who think Hogwarts is something that needs to be treated by a dermatologist-prescribed ointment, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is an orphaned boy raised by Dickensianly cruel relatives, the Dursleys, from whom he's emancipated when he receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It turns out that Harry's parents did not die in a car crash, as he was told, but in a showdown with an evil warlock, which Harry is famous in the netherworld for having survived, suffering only a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. His reputation precedes him at the school, winning him both admirers and enemies.

His best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), helped him learn the ropes in his first encounters with the world of magic, ghosts and mythical beasts in "The Sorcerer's Stone," the movie adaptation of which made enough galleons, sickels and knuts (worldwide box office reaching about $1 billion in mortal currency) to make director Chris Columbus a VIP customer at Gringotts Bank. Columbus returns to helm "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," in which Harry and pals must combat the malevolent force that is turning their fellow students into stone.

"When you really sit down and examine the books, two is the most cinematic of all," Columbus told BOXOFFICE in a phone interview from "The Chamber of Secrets'" London set. "It's much more of an adventure. It's a much more frightening film, a much more exciting film, and a much funnier film. The first 'Harry Potter' film was about discovery and the introduction to the wizarding world. In the second movie, we can immediately get into the story and the fun of the book."

The magic doesn't even wait for Harry to return to Hogwarts from a torturous summer break at the Dursleys. Though spells of any kind are strictly prohibited among junior wizards and especially in the Muggle realm, strange creatures are afoot and puddings are being levitated at 4 Privet Drive, London, by a house elf named Dobby who's intent on keeping Harry from returning to school -- ostensibly for his own good.

The computer-animated Dobby, with his cured-leather skin and flappy ears, might bear a passing resemblance to a famously loathed cinematic CGI character of the recent past, but Columbus is not too concerned about Jar Jar redux. "To be honest with you, yeah. We're all very aware of the Jar Jar situation. But people who've seen the film -- it doesn't even really come into people's minds. Except if you go into the film saying, 'I'm going to make a conscious choice to compare this character to Jar Jar,' which to me is just as absurd as saying, "I'm going to compare Daniel Radcliffe's performance to Al Pacino's performance in 'Insomnia.' They both happen to be flesh and blood; that's probably the only comparison you could make between two performances."

Al Pacino comparisons or the absence thereof notwithstanding, Radcliffe has over-night -- as if by magic -- become one of the world's most high-profile young actors, but is handling fame remarkably well, according to Columbus. "Dan will take me aside and say, 'Chris, you don't think I've gotten big-headed or anything, do you?' I'll say, 'Just the fact that you asked me that question means you're exactly the same sweet, nice person you were two years ago.'"

"The Chamber of Secrets" is packed to the spires with A-list British talent, including Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Miriam Margolyes, John Cleese and Shirley Henderson. Even with all those names, the set didn't suffer from what Columbus termed "star syndrome." "You don't have Maggie Smith waiting for her cook and her trainer and arguing with Alan Rickman about who's got the bigger trailer. They're there to work. They're really there to turn in a performance."

The kids will likely have to be recast for installments past "Prisoner of Azkaban" or "The Goblet of Fire," Columbus acknowledged. "I don't think any of them want to be 22 years old shooting the fourth film when they're supposed to be 14," he speculated. "[The audience doesn't] want that to happen, and I don't think they do, either. I think they're going to want to get on with their lives."

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