Review No. 405
The Bottom Line: A step up (and further) from the first entry.
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Screenplay by: Steve Kloves
Based on: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Rubeus Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Albus Dumbledore: Richard Harris
Severus Snape: Alan Rickman
Draco Malfoy: Tom Felton
Minerva McGonagall: Maggie Smith
Gilderoy Lockhart: Kenneth Branagh
Also Starring: Fiona Shaw, Jason Isaacs, John Cleese, Julie Walters, Richard Griffiths, Warwick Davis
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures on November 15, 2002. Produced in English by the United Kingdom and the United States. Runs 161 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was watched on January 28, 2013.
“It is not our abilities that show us what we truly are. It is our choices.” –Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris)
NOTE: If you are not familiar with the Harry Potter series, I would advise reading my review of the previous film before reading this review.
It’s quite clear why director Chris Columbus signed off the Harry Potter series after its second entry, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I imagine that when he read the screenplay for the first installment, he imagined exactly the result he produced: a giddy, upbeat, wholesome opening to the series. And that’s completely all right. Essentially, Sorcerer’s Stone is nothing more than two and a half hours of introduction to the setting and characters we must know for the rest of the series. The story is less of a concern; it’s nothing more than a rehash of mythological stories, tied with those original elements.
Chamber of Secrets is darker, deeper, more involving. I can’t imagine Columbus knew ahead of time that this would be by far his most intense work. That is, of course, given that most his films are family-friendly; this is family-oriented, but to use any hint or permutation of the word “friendly” seems a bit strange. Whereas Voldemort, the dark wizard who murdered Harry’s parents, is mentioned and eventually encountered in Sorcerer’s Stone, he’s an omnipresent concept in Chamber of Secrets. The perils are much greater and (for one who has not seen the film previously, or read the books) entirely unexpected. Okay, perhaps that’s some exaggeration.
Harry’s second year at Hogwarts does not start off great. Even during the summer before he is due to leave, a sprightly, scrawny house-elf named Dobby has tried every method to prevent him from going back. But even if Dobby tries to hoard Harry’s letter exchanges with his friends, Harry is desperate to go back to his only get-away from Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. He is even willing to serve detention on his first day back at Hogwarts, because he risked exposure of the Wizarding World to the ordinary world. Little does Harry know that he has arbitrarily chosen imminent death over a life in hell. Is this a good decision? Well, if Harry died, at least he’d have a good shot at being a ghost roaming around Hogwarts.
The rumor of the “Chamber of Secrets” is re-spreading when Harry arrives. According to legend, Harry learns, the Chamber was opened by a co-founder of Hogwarts fifty years before, as a means of ridding those born of non-Wizarding parents with a deadly beast. At first, no one believes that the Chamber has been opened yet again. For that matter, no one has a clue where it is, or if the rumor is anything more than an urban myth spreading around the school. But then, slowly but surely, strange occurrences are realized. Many students have been petrified, and there are constantly blood-written messages on the wall at the end of one specific hallway. The rest of the school believes that Voldemort is back for another attack, which means he is inevitably after Harry Potter, who survived an initial attack due to his parents’ sacrifice. The issue only gets worse when Harry’s only staff-oriented friend, Hagrid, is framed and sent to prison; the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is nothing more than an obvious conman (that’s the well-cast Kenneth Branagh); and Professor Dumbledore, the school’s headmaster and the only man Voldemort has ever feared, has been forced to take a leave of absence.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an excellent continuation on its initial work. More characters are introduced, but the same progression is maintained (if extrapolated on almost immensely). We open up with the more comical attitude. Not only do we get more of the obnoxious, stupid, greedy relatives Harry lives with, we are introduced to the Weasley family in depth. Arthur Weasley, the head of the family, earns a lot of laughs due to his working at the Ministry of Magic (basically the government surrounding Hogwarts). He takes much interest in the non-magical folk, being both born and married to the opposite demographic. “Can you tell me, Harry,” he asks in one scene. “What is the function of a rubber duck?”
Steve Kloves’s writing transitions well into the more ominous side. Unfortunately, the writing crumbles a bit after that. Much of J.K. Rowling’s writing is brilliant due to her extraordinary use of foreshadowing. It’s one thing to adapt it into the movie version; it’s another to completely obliterate it with a revealing moment no more than two minutes later. What’s worse, this happens all throughout Chamber of Secrets. The film does well in staying in the “family movie” area, while still maintaining the gravity of the books. If more time had been devoted to airbrushing several of those “spooky” qualities that make a tale so unsubtle and crafty, it could have worked out so much more nicely.