FILM REVIEW ***1/2
Darker Harry Potter Sequel Hypnotizes
The Chamber of Secrets Has Been Opened
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Written by Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by J. K. Rowling
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh
Potterphiles and casual moviegoers rejoice -- the film void of the fall season is over. Finished. No longer is the highest grossing movie of the weekend Jackass or I Spy. In a flash of flame and brilliance as if sent by floo powder, Harry Potter returns in Chamber of Secrets, the second film to be transformed from J. K. Rowling’s now legendary novels. (If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, by the way, haul ass to the nearest bookstore.)
Chamber is darker and more intense than its predecessor, and with improved acting and seamless special effects, it is far superior to Sorcerer’s Stone. Twelve-year-old Harry Potter, spending the summer with his Muggle relatives after his first year at Hogwarts, receives a dire message from house-elf Dobby, who says that the young wizard will be in great danger if he returns to school. Indeed, those disregarded warnings begin to come true very quickly, as a series of misfortunes soon befall poor Harry, who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It doesn’t take long for Harry to be ostracized by most of the students, who think he’s been attacking fellow wizards, and eventually only his faithful pals Ron and Hermione stand by him. To uncover the truth, the three engage in a round of tumultuous adventures, which include crashing a flying car and fleeing from hundreds of giant spiders, all the while breaking countless school rules. Excellent pacing of events and smooth transitions of Chamber’s screenplay adaptation give rise to a truly wonderful film.
It’s safe to say that the three young actors who play the trio of wizards have improved their acting. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson weren’t dreadful in the first film, but their performances were adequate at best. Now, they are completely convincing. Radcliffe does a splendid job interacting with CG character Dobby, and his struggles in the chamber while battling for his life are genuine. He rarely misses a moment during the entire film. Grint’s performance is likewise more compelling in Chamber. Watson’s portrayal of Hermione is far more notable, however. Possibly her finest moment is when she faces off against Draco Malfoy after he calls her a Mudblood (the most offensive slur for a Muggle). Moments later in Hagrid’s hut, she is on the verge of bursting into tears; it is without doubt a touching moment.
Returning from the first film, support characters such as Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and Dumbledore (Richard Harris) are again outstanding. We still wish that Snape (Alan Rickman) could get more screen time, though. Whether he is preying on Harry and Ron or simply present in any scene, Rickman is superb. Perhaps the finest acting must be credited to Kenneth Branagh, who plays the self-centered, incompetent Professor Lockhart with both humor and poise. Then there is Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), Draco’s father, whose cruelty and contempt for practically everyone makes him a walking manifestation of evil.
Chamber has a great deal more special effects than did Sorcerer’s Stone and implements them flawlessly into the film. The Whomping Willow is quite a thrill as it beats the flying car into submission with Harry and Ron trapped inside. Quidditch is much more realistic this time, guaranteed to immerse the audience as Harry and Draco fly beneath the stands, dodging wooden beams while trying to catch the Snitch. Fawkes the phoenix is also convincing. And while some may be expecting Dobby to be an obnoxious CG fabrication such as a certain unnamed character that we would like to see dead, that could not be further from the truth.
The finale in the Chamber is the most intense sequence of the film. The basilisk is real, and the duel between Harry and the beast is likewise excellent, yet it contains one of the few flaws in the script. There is a profound shot of the young wizard dragging himself out of the chamber, with one hand weakly holding the sword, the other clutching his wounded arm, and the twelve-year-old knows that he is dying from the basilisk’s venom. Radcliffe perfectly utters the line, “You were brilliant, Fawkes. I just wasn’t quick enough,” and then he gives a weak smile in the face of death. All this is done so well, and then a misused cue from John Williams flares, Fawkes swoops down, in an instant curing the wound with his tears, after which Harry says, “Thanks!” Couldn’t we have seen the young wizard suffer for more than an instant, as fear flickers into his eyes and he momentarily thinks about death, a theme so wonderfully developed up to this point? It is the very small number of mistakes like this one, however small, which prevent Chamber from being flawless.
Overall, Chamber of Secrets is the magical, engaging, and visually stunning continuation to Sorcerer’s Stone that everyone wants. General opinion is that each subsequent Harry Potter book gets better exponentially, and so far, the same is true of the films. I can’t even imagine how good Prisoner of Azkaban is going to be. Chamber of Secrets has nothing to worry about, not even little folk with hairy feet. With so many great films coming out, though, it surely won’t be too difficult to keep busy during the next six months while we wait for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.