Should I Watch..? 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'
What's the big deal?
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets is an adventure fantasy film released in 2002 and is the second instalment of the Harry Potter series. Directed by Chris Columbus who also directed the first film, the film covers Harry's second year at Hogwarts while someone unleashes an ancient evil upon the pupils and staff. Like the preceding Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, the film was a critical and commercial success, making $879 million at the global box office. It retained many of the same cast and crew as before but it follows the book more closely, making this the longest film in the series. It also lacks the sense of magic the first film had, repeating the same tricks we saw in the first film but they're not as impressive the second time around.
What's the story?
Harry, eagerly awaiting the start of his second year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry, is upset to find that a mysterious elf named Dobby has intercepted his mail from his friends Ron and Hermione and is set on preventing Harry from going back. Rescuing by Ron in his family's flying Ford Anglia, Harry rejoins his friends at Hogwarts to find a new teacher - celebrity heart-throb Gilderoy Lockhart who takes over teaching the Defence Against The Dark Arts classes.
But Harry's second year is marred by danger as a mysterious creature has been released by an heir to Salazar Slytherin from the Chamber Of Secrets. With fear running rampant throughout Hogwarts and petrified victims popping up all over the place, Harry, Ron and Hermione begin to suspect that Harry's rival Draco Malfoy might be responsible. But soon, Harry finds that it must fall to him to save the day once again when the creature strikes down one of our heroes...
Professor Gilderoy Lockhart
Professor Albus Dumbledore
Professor Severus Snape
Steve Kloves *
Release Date (UK)
15th November, 2002
Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery
What's to like?
If ever a film encapsulated the phrase "more of the same" then The Chamber Of Secrets would do the trick. The film has the same high standard of effects the first film established while the Hogwarts set is just as immersive and exciting. The cast are all back and the new additions elevate the film ever higher. Branagh's Lockhart, a foppish dandy who isn't everything he seems, is both a brilliant creation by Rowling and expertly performed by Branagh who understands the character's role in the film. Watson also is much less annoying than she was in the first film while Felton, as Harry's nemesis Draco, steps up to the plate and delivers as well - an eerie foreshadowing of his growing role in later films. But the biggest surprise is Radcliffe, who displays a real maturity in the role.
The second half of the film suddenly gets very dark compared to the family-friendly atmosphere of the first half, which carries over from the first movie. The moment that cryptic writing appears in blood on the walls and people begin getting petrified feels like a very different kettle of fish from Harry's misadventures with mischievous pixies and shrieking plant-creatures. It's not as bleak as the later movies but certainly hints as to what is to come down the line.
- The Ford Anglia used in the book was the same make of car that J.K. Rowling used to ride around in when she was at school and later drove. Because she enjoyed the car, she wrote it into the story.
- Moaning Myrtle was a member of Ravenclaw, according to Rowling. She was played by Shirley Henderson who was 37, making her the oldest cast member to play a pupil of Hogwarts.
- Filming began just three days after the premier of The Philosopher's Stone. Sadly, Richard Harris would pass away a few weeks before this film premiered, making this his final appearance as Dumbledore.
What's not to like?
Director Columbus does make a fundamental error, however - this film is simply too close in style and tone to the first film. It doesn't bring anything new to the party that we haven't already seen besides new characters and creatures and it needed something else. Yes, Hogwarts is still spectacular but we don't necessarily see any more of it - it's the same corridors, classrooms, bedrooms and the Great Hall without showing us anything new that carries the same sense of wonder. In the first film, there is a sense of bewilderment at the strange and magical world that Harry came to inhabit. Here, characters talk to ghosts like it's an everyday occurrence without any hint of being scared or intimidated.
The pace is all wrong in The Chamber Of Secrets which dwell far too long on Harry's lessons and not enough on the growing mystery of the Chamber itself, which is far more interesting. And despite the running time, the film still takes a few liberties with the book although Rowling supervised enough to make sure it all fit into her grand scheme. But the film simply lacks the joy and wonder the first film had in spades - it's broadly similar in content and style but doesn't do much or offer anything really new to justify seeing it. Of course, it's necessary to fulfil and understand the series as a whole but it felt a little bit like filler between the kiddie-friendly opening film and the more darker, adult films like Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.
Should I watch it?
Potter fans will lap it up but those of you still not sure about the franchise might not be fully convinced by this retread of the first film. The Chamber Of Secrets is a film full of promises but little in the way of delivery, making it feel a shallow effects exercise. It's more interesting than the first film and gets darker towards the end but I simply didn't feel the same magic I felt with the first film.
Great For: Potter fans, slightly older children, Ford Anglia owners
Not So Great For: young children's bedtime, Tolkien fans
What else should I watch?
The Philosopher's Stone is a more family-friendly outing although it has the odd scary scene dropped in here and there - although nothing like the scenes with the Basilisk shown here. Of course, the stories would get progressively darker from here on out starting with the next film, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. The Chamber Of Secrets would mark the last time the films would appeal to the pre-teen market but don't feel too sorry for them - those damned Minions are pretty much everywhere these days while the songs from Frozen are still echoing across the land, backed up by the sound of tills ringing from merchandise sales.
Of course, if you want more grown-up fantasy fare then you can't go much wrong with Peter Jackson's glorious Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Vast and epic yet detailed and intimate, the three films together form one of the best stories ever written visualised in a way that Tolkien himself would have loved. They are, in a word, fantastic. They are also much better than the belated trilogy based around The Hobbit which, while technically impressive, never quite shake the feeling of a dead horse being flogged.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox