Film Review: 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' (2002)
My Harry Potter overview continues today with the second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
While I enjoyed Philosopher's Stone when it first came out, it was also quite frightening to a young viewer. As such, I remember being uneasy about going to the theaters to see this one. Not that I wasn't looking forward to seeing it. I certainly was. But I had also read the book, so I knew well in advance the film would contain a big scary basilisk, and a creepy scene with a bunch of spiders.
Overall, I remember enjoying the film well enough in spite of that. But that was back then. Does it hold up as well today? Let's take a look.
Harry's Second Year
Stylistically, the film shares a lot in common with its predecessor, definitely moreso than the later films, although Chamber of Secrets comes with some subtle distinctions of its own. It may not have quite the same introductory wonder as the first film. But at the same time, it has the advantage that many sequels have of being able to skip the introductions and just jump right into the story. Indeed, we make it to Hogwarts a little faster this time around than we did in the previous film.
The transition to Hogwarts itself is a little different too. In the first film, Harry had no idea he was a wizard until Hagrid told him. Here, he already knows he's going back to wizarding school. Already this makes his life with the Dursleys feel less oppressive, and from the beginning there's more of an eager sense of anticipation. Once he actually makes it to Hogwarts, though, things start to take on a more ominous and foreboding tone.
While Hogwarts remains the major setting for most of the series, we get to see other significant places in the wizarding world here and there as well. The important locale we're introduced to in this film is the Burrow. In my Philosopher's Stone review, I gushed about how awesome of a school Hogwarts is. But, really, the entire Harry Potter world is just fascinating. I've seen many storytellers with great imaginations, but I think J.K. Rowling especially had an uncanny gift for worldbuilding.
Familiar Faces, and Some not so Familiar
The returning actors all slip back into their roles quite comfortably. I'm happy that they were able to keep so many of the same actors on throughout the series. I feel like I could watch them all day. I could go on and on about how great the performances are from pretty much everyone, but I think the results speak for themselves. It's also nice that a few of the characters, such as Molly and Ginny, have expanded roles compared to last time.
We meet a few new characters too, including the antagonistic-yet-well-meaning Dobby, and the lovable Arthur Weasley. But the real standout for me is Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. He's a total sleazeball, but he's just so funny and silly that I can't help but find him endearing at the same time. Unfortunately, as with Madame Hooch before him, he's another one-movie wonder, but he still manages to steal every scene he's in.
And last but not least, we get to meet Lucius Malfoy, Draco's snooty father. Okay, Draco himself was pretty snooty too, but Lucius really takes the cake. Already we're starting to meet characters who are vile enough to make the Dursleys look tame. In a way, it seems symbolic of how Harry is moving further and further away from the people who were once such domineering figures in his life.
Chamber of Secrets is one of the less popular installments in the series. Admittedly, I can see why. It is a bit repetitive of the first film in some ways. And once you make it to the third film, the series becomes noticably more serious and stylishly put together. And, in my opinion, that's where it starts to get really awesome.
However, I still think Chamber of Secrets is fantastic in its own right. There's a lot to appreciate here, enough that I think most people who enjoyed Philosopher's Stone would enjoy this film too. In fact, between the two, I personally like Chamber of Secrets a little better. I like the greater sense of mystery, and the overall darker and slightly more subdued atmosphere. Even though Voldemort was vanquished (for now), things don't feel any safer at Hogwarts. The castle feels a little deeper and more mysterious this time around.
I just love the scene of Hermione as a cat for some reason. In fact, the whole Polyjuice Potion segment is great stuff, with Harry and Ron trying their best to impersonate Crabbe and Goyle, struggling to keep their tempers under control around Malfoy, and how they abruptly take off running the moment their disguises wear off.
It's interesting how, when we first meet Arthur at the Burrow, we see that he's so interested in Muggles. It's the total opposite of Harry's predicament in the first film. Harry grew up in the mundane Muggle world and found the wizarding world so amazing. By contrast, Arthur grew up in the wizarding world and is used to all of it, and thus he probably takes much of it for granted.
When Harry arrives in Borgin and Burkes, the hand that clamps down on him is a great startle moment. I've watched this movie with both my mother and my father on separate occasions, and it made both of them jump pretty good!
When Harry and Ron go to Hargrid's hut, just before Hagrid is taken to Azkaban, notice how Dumbledore is aware that Harry and Ron are hiding under the invisibility cloak. How did Dumbledore know that? It reminds me of how, in the first film, Mrs Norris also seems to be able to see whoever's hiding beneath the cloak.
Speaking of Hagrid's hut, it looks so cozy in there. Hagrid's hut and the Burrow are probably the coziest-looking places we see in the films.
One minor detail from the book I wish they’d included in this film was, at the end, when Dumbledore awards Harry and Ron 200 house points each for their heroic actions. In the first book and first film, Dumbledore awarded Harry and his friends a total of 170 points at the end of the year (50 each to Ron and Hermione, 60 to Harry, and 10 to Neville), winning Gryffindor the house cup. Well, Harry and Ron managed to completely blow that out of the water in their second year by getting a whopping 400 points!! Man, those other houses didn't stand a chance.
The Extended Version
As with Philosopher's Stone, there's an extended edition available for this film too. This time, it's 13 minutes longer instead of 6 ½ minutes. Most of the additions are again fairly minor, but they're still worth watching. It really makes we wish all the Harry Potter films could’ve had extended versions. Alas, it was only Philosopher's Stone and this film that had them.
You can see here for a detailed analysis of what all was added.
After the end
Oh, and there's also an extra scene once the credits are done. Curiously, this is the only Harry Potter film to have a post-credits scene, years before Marvel made it a tradition with their superhero movies. For those who haven't seen it, I won't give it away. Again, it's nothing essential, but worth seeing all the same.
All in all
Still a great sequel and a great movie all these years later. Aside from maybe the odd nitpick here and there, I don't really have any complaints. It does a nice job at continuing the story from last time, expanding Harry's world and offering another compelling mystery, all while setting us up for the next adventure. Next time, we'll be having a look at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
(As a side note, I will be covering films other than Harry Potter as well. I have a couple of surprises in particular coming up soon. Stay tuned.)
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