Potter magic comes to the UK

The atmosphere in cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic will be magic today as Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone finally goes on general release.

The fantasy film is one of the most eagerly awaited movies for years with all the early showings sold out weeks in advance.

The lucky few who have already managed to see the big screen adaptation of JK Rowling's best selling books, in preview screenings, have given the film a resounding thumbs-up.

Cinemas in the UK have been reporting their biggest ever advance bookings for the film, which stars 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous hero.

Ticket sales for Odeon have topped £2 million with fans of the young wizard desperate to see how his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry translate to the big screen.

Thousands of young people turned out for the star-studded premiere which was held a fortnight ago in London's Leicester Square.

Cinema companies have also dedicated an unprecedented number of their screens to the film in anticipation of the huge interest.

In America experts have predicted it will smash box office records and believe it will beat Jurassic Park II's three-day opening takings of 72.1 million (£51 million).

Cinemas across the US are planning to open at one minute after midnight to cope with the huge demand.

There has been some criticism of the Harry Potter phenomenon in America with some right wing groups accusing it of being "evil" and encouraging an obsession with the occult.

But Paul Dergarabedian, a leading film expert, suggests that it could become a "cultural phenomenon" capable of lifting national spirits following the September 11 atrocities.

He said: "People are going to go into this movie and totally forget what's going on in the world. It's an inexpensive form of group therapy. Who needs a psychiatrist?

"Just go see Harry Potter."

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