Chris Columbus has been chosen by Warner Bros. to direct the first of the Harry Potter book adaptations, closing the chapter on one of the most competitive Hollywood job contests in recent memory.

Columbus, director of such commercially successful family films as Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, is expected to begin filming Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone this summer, on location in England.

"It was important to us to find a director that has an affinity for both children and magic," explained Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of worldwide production for Warner Bros. Pictures, when making the announcement on Tuesday.

Among the many top filmmakers that had been considered for the family film these past few months were Brad Silberling, Alan Parker, Terry Gilliam, Rob Reiner, Jonathan Demme, Mike Newell, Wolfgang Peterson and Robert Zemeckis. Steven Spielberg, the obvious first choice, also flirted with Harry Potter before opting to direct A.I., also for Warner.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone is the first in the universally popular series of bestsellers written by British author J.K. Rowling that follow the exploits of a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own.

In the initial installment, which has been adapted for the screen by Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys, Harry is summoned from his life as an unwanted foster child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents' mysterious deaths at the hands of a powerful adversary.

Warner Bros. Pictures, through UK producer David Heyman, acquired the rights to the first four books in the series, which is projected to include seven books. Said Heyman: "Chris has been pursuing Harry Potter for nigh on two years. His passion and enthusiasm are overwhelming. I know he will make a great film."

Columbus' other credits as a director include Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Nine Months, Stepmom and Bicentennial Man. He first gained notice in Hollywood as a screenwriter on three films, Gremlins, Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes.

Harry Potter has won ardent fans worldwide among both children and adults. However, the first signs of a religious backlash have also emerged recently with certain schools on both sides of the Atlantic calling for a ban on the grounds that they violate Bible teachings.

The Board of Education in South Carolina is currently reviewing whether the books should be allowed in schools after getting complaints from parents. While in the UK this week, a primary school headteacher in the English County of Kent publicised her objections after removing Harry Potter from her pupils' reading lists.

"The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teachings that wizards, devils and demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous, and God's people are told to have nothing to do with them. Carol Rookwood, head of St Mary's Island Church of England Aided School, was quoted as saying by the Press Association. "We have studied the Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe which is not a problem because it shows an evil witch who is overcome by the powers of good," she added.