No studio wants to clash with holiday titans “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” So Christmas comes early to theaters as Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause 2” debuted Friday, one day after Halloween, marking an unusually speedy start to Hollywood’s holiday season.

The 1994 original, in which Allen played a divorced dad who inherits the Kris Kringle gig after accidentally snuffing Santa, opened almost four weeks before Thanksgiving.

That time slot this year is occupied by the second adventure of Harry and friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Their first adventure, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was last year’s top-grossing movie.

The first “Lord of the Rings” film ran a close second in 2001’s box-office chart, so with part two coming just before Christmas, Disney chose to deliver “Santa Clause 2” early rather than risk being buried by the Hogwarts express and the hobbit stampede.

“I believe now after the heat we’ve been getting on our movie that we could probably compete with `Harry Potter,’ ” Allen said. “But you have to stay away from big movies like `Harry Potter’ or `Lord of the Rings.’ You just have to.”


Director Chris Columbus and all major cast members return for the second “Harry Potter,” including Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as chums Hermione and Ron.

Grint said the new movie “has a lot more action. I prefer it to the first one. It’s darker, and it’s quite funny, as well.”

Adapted from the second of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” best-sellers, the movie chronicles Harry’s second year at Hogwarts as he deals with the celebrity of his first-year heroics and a new danger lurking at the school.

Radcliffe said he gets to reveal a more ominous side to Harry.

“I think everybody has a dark side,” Radcliffe said. “So I think it was great to be able to show Harry’s dark side. It was great to be able to do, to show that he’s not flawless, he’s not the perfect person.”

Speaking of dark sides, director Peter Jackson’s middle chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” picks up where the first left off, with the fellowship now fractured, its members striking off on separate journeys in their quest to destroy a ring of absolute evil.

While Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) lead a confrontation against evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) carry the ring to the foul lands of Mordor, the hangout of ultimate bad guy Sauron.

“Film One is a very linear story of this fellowship of nine characters finding their way through this land. Films Two and Three, the aperture opens wider, and you see a broader picture of Middle-earth,” said Mark Ordesky, an executive producer of the trilogy, whose final installment comes next year.

“As Frodo and Sam creep their way along, they periodically pass by huge columns of evil-looking creatures that are being drawn to Sauron. He’s like a lighthouse calling all evil to him. And then you’ve got Aragorn, the lost king of Gondor. He sees that no one’s really working together, and he’s nation building, and all of this is essentially a prelude to film three.”