Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Release Date: November 15, 2002
Distributor: Warner Brothers
· Chris Columbus
· Daniel Radcliffe
· Emma Watson
· Richard Harris
by Sean Conover
Published: November 11, 2002
In the first installment of the novel-to-screen Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus brought the words of J.K Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" to life. Introducing each of the main characters and the world of Hogwart's School of Magic encompassed much of the film's beginning, but gave the film a sense of wonder in putting faces with the names. The adventure that followed added to the magic, and made the film a fabulous ride.
Now, Columbus brings the second year at Hogwarts of the magician in training to the screen. With the entire cast from the first film returning for "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," the characters are already familiar, and the school grounds established. Because of this, Columbus gets to focus on the details of the story instead of the characters, and thus ends up directing a more enjoyable adventure, but lackluster character depth.
After escaping from the Dudleys' (with the help of Ron Weasley and his brothers), Harry returns to Hogwart's amidst a new terror. According to legend, one of Hogwart's original founders (Slytherin) supposedly built a secret chamber within the school to practice his dark magic. When Slytherin left the school, the chamber was sealed, and it was only to be re-opened by the true heir to Slytherin. When threatening messages written in blood appear on the walls of the school, and students begin to turn up mysteriously paralyzed, the faculty and students are gripped in fear that the chamber has been "re-opened," and those not of pure magical blood ("Mud-bloods") will begin to be murdered.
Of course, the trio of friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the main focus of the film, and we follow their attempt to uncover the secrets of the chamber, and stop the strange occurrences. The story, however, is much darker in nature than its predecessor. Snakes and spiders abound, along with hissing, eerie voices who "need to kill" and have a "need for blood." While it's one thing for pre-teens to read about these images, to actually have them amplified in surround sound in a dark theater is another, and may make for some rather frightening moments for younger viewers. The vibe is fitting, in the end, to communicate the darkness and evil nature of the chamber.
Although the main cast of characters was introduced in the first film, a few new interesting players are brought in to striking results and are perfectly cast. Gilderoy Lockhart (played by Kenneth Branagh), a self-absorbed novelist who writes about all of his own brilliant adventures, is brought in as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He brings a nice levity to the film, and has a few of the film's more humorous lines, but unfortunately becomes a minor player in the adventure. Lucious Malfoy (the father of Draco Malfoy, Harry's counterpart at the school) is played by Jason Isaacs, and embodies the ruthless, nasty character with relish. His hatred for "Mudbloods" and snobbish attitude make him the perfect role model for Draco, and you can almost see Draco eventually evolving into his father's slimy shoes.
One thing that is missed a bit is the continuity of actual classes as we follow Harry and his pals, and therefore the idea of passing time. With the exception of a few classes for story's sake and a seasonal change (we do see snow), the trio doesn't seem to be attending school at all, and are instead dealing only with the adventure at hand. Although this doesn't take away from the adventure as a whole, it does take away from the grounding element of the story. When children see these peers at a magical school like Hogwart's, they should also see them dealing with the actual studying and learning that comes with their education, and the hard work it takes to also take on a side project. Instead, they are caught up in the adventure itself, which is not a bad thing but is noticeable.
Clocking in at about 2 1/2 hours in length, little is left out of the transfer of the trio's adventure from page to screen. The characters are familiar, and the magic of the universe that J.K. Rowling created is again abundant, so Columbus grabs it all and brings it to life yet again. This film will win on two accounts: those that enjoyed the first installment will embrace the second, as will those that enjoy rousing adventures. Now if we can just wait for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" to come out.