Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review
By Joe Lozito
Sophomore of the Same
You have to respect the surgical precision with which the Harry Potter franchise has been thrust upon the world. Like an old friend that you turn to when you need a boost, the second installment of the Potter juggernaut, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", delivers exactly what you would expect of it. Slightly darker in tone and certainly more action-packed than the original (the film's Quidditch game and a trip to a spider-infested forest are particularly harrowing), "Chamber" has the advantage of not having to set up the Potter-verse. Instead, the film is basically a good old-fashioned whodunit set in what have by now become the familiar confines of the magical school of Hogwarts.
The cast of junior detectives - the charmed Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew - have grown into their roles well. Daniel Radcliffe in particular, as the titular boy wizard, adds the subtle gravity needed for Harry's second year. He's less in awe and more determined this time around. Harry has become a character worth caring about on screen now, as well as on the page. Though underutilized, Emma Watson is as adorably precocious as ever as Hermione Granger and Rupert Grint's rubbery expressions of haplessness are well suited to the comic relief of Ron Weasley. Though they make it unclear how anything ever gets done at Hogwarts, the returning adult staff - Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane - all reliably deliver their roles with gusto. Jason Issacs ("The Patriot") is a welcome addition as the sneering Lucius Malfoy and Kenneth Branagh is a little too perfectly comfortable as the egomaniacal Gilderoy Lockhart. The scenes featuring headmaster Albus Dumbledore are particularly poignant since they are the last performance of the late, lamented Richard Harris.
Chris Columbus is a competent director. He has all the special effects in existence at his disposal, and he wields them with skill, but not wizardry. The film's flying car, shrieking Mandrake plants and free-floating apparitions are all presented ably. Mr. Columbus is, as he always has been, Steven Speilberg's protégée, but he is does not have the man's flair for presentation. It's a shame that Mr. Speilberg himself turned down helming this series. The films might have turned out a bit more, to pick an obvious adjective, magical.
The Harry Potter films are everything the new Star Wars movies should be. They are true to a mythology, rife with exposition and special effects and suitable for adults and children alike. The important difference, however, is that Harry Potter is populated with an extraordinary cast of actors who are actually given good scripts to work with. Since the films are adapted to within an inch of their lives by Steve Kloves - who is going to need a serious vacation once the four films are done - from J.K. Rowling's already insanely popular novels, there are plenty of great characters and dialogue in the film. The only exception being a computer generated 'house-elf' named Dobby who is sort of a combination of "Star Wars'" Jar Jar Binks and Gollum from "Lord of the Rings". The character must have played better in the books than on screen where he comes off as completely annoying. Likewise, I've had about enough of Harry's preposterously abusive Aunt and Uncle. The less screen time wasted on them in future films, the better.
And at two hour and forty minutes, the film could have used a little trimming. Obviously the filmmakers are trying to please the hordes of Potter purists in the world. I'm sure they have, but at the expense of a film that could have been a lot more breezy and less overstuffed. Hopefully, when director Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") takes over for the next installment, he will be a little more generous in the editing room. And, of course, Harry will be back - at least twice more. That's not necessarily a bad thing. So far, if nothing else, he's been consistent. As the song says, "all the good times we've had, we'll have again". And, though these films are trifles, they are at least high quality trifles.