The season's two biggest franchises have more in common than bazillions in ticket sales: Wizards, elves, trolls, and animated trees crop up in ''The Lord of the Rings'' and the two ''Harry Potter'' movies. ''Rings'' director Peter Jackson moved a jumbo spider -- not unlike the one in ''The Chamber of Secrets'' -- from ''The Two Towers,'' the second in J.R.R. Tolkien's series, to next Christmas' ''Return of the King.''
Though Jackson says he made the switch to improve plot development, Sean Astin wonders if there might have been one too many overlaps with ''Potter'' -- and other recent fare. ''When Peter told me they were doing big spiders in ''Eight Legged Freaks,'' he had this disappointed quality in his voice,'' recalls the hobbit. But Astin isn't bitter. ''I don't think Tolkien owns the patent on spiders or cave trolls or talking trees, although you might think so by comparing the films,'' he kids. ''But how many more 'Potter' books do they still have to film? I don't want to talk myself out of a job.''