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Midnight Debut For 'Harry Potter'

It was a minute past midnight Friday, and Daniel Alzuri was ready.

The 26-year-old and his friends were among the first to see the first showing Friday of the much-anticipated "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."

Alzuri said he didn't want to risk waiting until later in the day and have others spoil the fun by telling him all about the film.

"We weren't going to wait," he said. "We wanted to be the first ones to ruin it for everybody else."

He and the other die-hard Potter fans at the Loews Theater on 42nd Street may have been the earliest to see the movie, but many others were expected to be in line later in the day.

As the movie opened around the country, it was to be shown on even more screens in more theaters than "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" did a year ago.

But even distributor Warner Bros. conceded "Chamber of Secrets" may have a hard time equaling the $90.3 million opening weekend of "Sorcerer's Stone."

"There was such an anticipation for the opening of the first one that it would really be extremely difficult and unrealistic that we could open to a number quite that large," said Dan Fellman, Warner's head of domestic distribution.

"Sorcerer's Stone" held the record for best opening-weekend gross until "Spider-Man" came in last spring with a $114.8 million debut.

Adapted from the second of J.K. Rowling's best-selling books, "Chamber of Secrets" follows Harry through year two at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he has a rematch with the evil conjurer who killed his parents.

"Chamber of Secrets" was set to open in a record 3,682 theaters, 10 more than "Sorcerer's Stone," and play on a record 8,500 screens, up about 400 over the first film.

While it may not break cash records, early reviews generally are calling "Chamber of Secrets" a better movie than "Sorcerer's Stone." That's a sign the new film may have more staying power and eventually exceed the $317.6 million total taken in by "Sorcerer's Stone."

"We've seen a lot of sequels besting their predecessors lately," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Everyone's saying this one's better, so the buzz is there."

There could be as many as seven "Harry Potter" films, but the only definite, says the movie's star, Daniel Radcliffe, is the next or third movie.

""I'll definitely do a third one," he told co-anchor Harry Smith on The Early Show this week. But after that, who knows?"

The role of Harry Potter is becoming more and more familiar to him, he says.

"I'm getting more and more into my part, and it's getting kind of harder to differentiate between me … 'cause as time goes on I'm finding more things that connect us both … when reading the fourth book and stuff you find out even more things that we're both like," says Radcliffe. "It's really weird."

Warner Bros. has tried hard to ensure that "Harry Potter" works the same magic again. Along with Radcliffe, child stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint returned for part two, along with key adult cast members and director Chris Columbus.

The filmmakers again followed the text of Rowling's novel as inclusively as possible, producing a two-hour, 41-minute movie, which is long by family-film standards.

Special effects are improved, and Columbus injects more action and a darker tone into "Chamber of Secrets."

"I knew we wanted to get it darker and edgier and more intense, more exciting. The first one had 45 minutes of introduction. This film, we got into the story" right away, Columbus said.

The sequel also is opening in eight other countries Friday. It will be on about 1,270 screens in Great Britain, up about 70 over "Sorcerer's Stone," and on nearly 1,000 in France, up from 900 for the first film, said Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner's head of international distribution.