Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review
It’s the start of Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) second year at Hogwarts, but he’s a prisoner in the home of the Dursley family. First he’s warned by Dobby the House Elf that he must not return to Hogwarts or his life will be in danger. Then Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) rescues Harry from the Dursleys’ house and eventually through a series of misadventures they arrive at Hogwarts for the beginning of the term. However, a series of sinister events take place, and Harry comes under suspicion…
A year after Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone to the Americans), here is the film of the second of J.K. Rowling’s series of novels (four so far published out of seven). The personnel are pretty much the same as before, both in front of and behind the camera. The major additions to the cast are Kenneth Branagh as the egotistical Gilderoy Lockhart, Miriam Margolyes as Professor Sprout, a blond-wigged Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, and Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ lavatory. Sadly, this is also the last we’ll see of Richard Harris, reprising the role of headmaster Dumbledore. Behind the scenes, the principal crew are much the same, with the major change being the Director of Photography (Roger Pratt replacing John Seale).
Chamber of Secrets assumes you’ve seen the first film – a safe bet considering its success and that of the book before it. Whereas Philosopher’s Stone spent an hour and a half on establishing the premise and the characters before kicking a plot into action, this film plunges us into the action from the outset. Chamber of Secrets is a long film – eight minutes longer than Philosopher’s Stone – but as before, no-one need worry about this keeping children’s (and adult’s) attention. Stay behind after the end credits for a final joke.
Even without their built in fan base, the Potter books are perfect film material. They’re plot driven and don’t rely on complexities of style or character. Chris Columbus is in many ways the ideal director. A Spielberg protegé, Columbus is certainly a competent director, and as with the first film, concentrates on telling his story and keeping up the pace for two and a half hours, which leaves him little time for the sentimental excesses that have marred some of his past work. However, his tendency to cut away to shots of Harry grinning and laughing is a little irritating: we can work out if something’s funny without needing to have it underlined for us. Roger Pratt’s Scope photography is unattractively contrasty in places. Also, the final scene, which hints at a future romance complicating the lives of Harry, Ron and Hermione, is more than a bit saccharine. Alfonso Cuarón, who will direct the third film, is a much more talented filmmaker than Columbus, and it will be interesting to see what difference he might make to the material.
Daniel Radcliffe seems more comfortable as Harry, though as before he’s outacted by Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. The adults all seem to be enjoying themselves, with Branagh’s self-mockery possibly the standout. All in all, this is part two of an ongoing franchise, the mixture as before which a few changes and developments: the book transferred more or less intact to the screen with considerable competence though maybe not as much style as some would like. It would be difficult to mess this up, and it doesn’t happen. There’s no doubt this will clean up over Christmas. Roll on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban a year from now.