Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
December 4, 2003
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Jim Norton, Veronica Clifford, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Mark Williams, Chris Rankin, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Miriam Margolyes,
The best sequels have a way of improving on the original, and Chamber of Secrets succeeds in nearly every respect. It’s darker, funnier, more action-packed and the three leads are actually starting to act (witness Harry’s face/off at the end). With filming currently underway on Prisoner of Azkaban, Warner Bros must be rubbing their greedy little hands with anticipation born from that rare thing in Hollywood: a guaranteed hit franchise.
If you’re unfamiliar with the books, or even the first movie, your enjoyment of Chamber of Secrets will be seriously dented. It’s Harry’s second year at Hogwarts and after a warning from Dobby the house elf, things start to go wrong when students start turning up petrified (ie: frozen) in the school corridors. It seems the infamous Chamber of Secrets has been opened and all mudbloods (children with non-magic parents) are in danger of being attacked by a monster. So Harry, Ron and Hermione take it upon themselves to find out who’s behind it all.
A new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher arrives, but professor Lockhart (a scene-stealing Kenneth Branagh) isn’t all that he seems. We also meet Draco’s father Lucius for the first time (Jason Isaacs), who openly despises mudbloods and would like to see Dumbledore fired from Hogwarts. Harry also has to put up with Colin Creevey, an obsessed fan with a camera permanently attached to his hand. “Can you turn him around for a picture?” he asks Harry when Ron starts spewing slugs.
“No Colin, get out the way!” Harry cries.
J.K Rowling’s books and Steve Kloves’ adapted screenplays are in fact very clever mysteries that have more in common with Agatha Christie than Roald Dahl. Such a rich, detailed world is a hard thing to put on screen, but kudos to director Columbus for not worrying about the running time (two and a half hours is practically unheard of for a children’s film, but then again just as many adults will be watching).
The benefit of having the books for reference and shooting the series almost non-stop means the creators can see what was wrong in the first film (dodgy CGI for example) and correct them. So here the Quiddich match is slicker, more violent and the special FX are…well, more special. This is because Columbus chose to shoot all the FX stuff first, so the people at ILM would have longer to perfect them, and it has paid off. Columbus is also more imaginitive with the camera as it slides around like a snake and gives us some wonderfully gothic angles. Hogwarts seems to darken as the movie progresses; corridors lead off into darkness, statues cast long shadows etc.
Chamber is much more action-packed too. Quiddich bludgers smash through grandstands like bombs, cars zoom over train-tracks in mid-air, giant spiders attack in swarms.
Sure, it’s overly sentimental, and if you want to be cynical the dialogue and some of the acting is awful (Alan Rickman I’m looking at you), but the three leads are growing into their roles comfortably and if you go along for the ride, Chamber of Secrets is a lot of fun. (It’s nice to see some genuine British slang in there too. When was the last time you saw a Hollywood film where a British character says ‘She’s mental’ or ‘You’re having a laugh’?)
Better than Philosopher’s Stone, but still lacking a commentary. What we do get is an interview with Steve Kloves and J.K Rowling, though it’s not as great as you’d think because the interviewer asks the most banal questions. The trump card is the 19 deleted/extended scenes which include Harry darting through a crowd of onlookers at the quiddich match, Hermione recovering in hospital sans whiskers and a longer scene with Harry and Lucius in the Diagon Alley shop. The scenes were obviously cut for time or they included exposition that had already been covered, but it’s still interesting to watch them. There are also photo galleries, quizzes, guided tours, building Dumbledore’s office set and brief interviews with most of the cast.
Chamber of Secrets is a great sequel and Prisoner of Azkaban is due out some time next year. You’ll be a muggle to miss it.