and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2
Warning, minor plot points revealed!
I was reluctantly pulled into the Harry Potter mania. Much like Lord of the Rings, it's a genre that I'm not really fond of. But I would be irresponsible as a big time serious movie critic, if I didn't rave about these movies regardless of my distaste for the source material. I never saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the theatre. It was probably the excitement of my nieces that strengthened my belief that it was too "kiddy" to really be worth it. I know most adults who read the series are equally enraptured by it, but I figured that was just parents taking an interest in their kids obsessions and Dungeons and Dragons nerds who are required by the Nerd Code to like stuff like this. Since it's release on DVD, I have seen the first Potter movie 3 times. It's a great film and it will I'm sure become a very successful "Star Wars like" franchise.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets moves past the introductory requirements of the first film and goes immediately into this episode's adventure. In his second term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter is warned by an elf named Dobby that disaster will strike when he returns to school. Strange things start to happen as soon as he returns. People are becoming petrified, and no-one knows what or who is doing it. Bloody messages scrawled onto the walls at the scene of the attacks claim that The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Many suspect that it is Harry who has unleashed the monster of the Chamber. He and his friends Ron and Hermione set out to find the perpetrator and expose the real threat at Hogwarts.
Director Chris Columbus, in his last turn in the director's chair, sets the Potter movie series solidly on track for the remaining sequels. The universe he has created is elaborate, complete and ready to serve the fantastic adventures of little Harry. The movie fluidly moves from one action packed scene to the next as it builds to it's showdown between Harry and the ever menacing Lord Voldemort. Along the way there's a much more aggressive Quiddich match, the introduction of some new faculty and facilities at Hogwarts, an assault by giant spiders (very scary), and a battle to the death with a giant dragon-snake called a basilisk. The 2 hours and 41 minutes of the film fly by. I was so drawn into the story that I was amazed how quickly it seemed to end. This is the mark of an excellent film.
The large ensemble cast does a wonderful job as well. Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter as far as I'm concerned and will probably be typecast as such forever. Rupert Grint is hilarious as Ron Weasley. Emma Watson is back as brainy and cute Hermione Granger. The new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts and self made celebrity Gilderoy Lockhart is wonderfully played by master thespian Kenneth Branagh. Maggie Smith returns as professor McGonagall. Severus Snape (my favorite character,) in an unfortunately small role, is wickedly portrayed again by one of my favorite movie villains, Alan Rickman. Tom Felton (my other favorite of the series) is back as sinister Draco Malfoy. Friendly giant Robbie Coltrane remains the kids best friend on the school staff as Hagrid. And finally, the late Richard Harris created in Albus Dumbledore the wise and wonderful headmaster that will be most difficult to replace for the rest of the series.
The special effects are excellent. I wouldn't call them "Star Wars / Lord of the Rings excellent, " but they are as good as the scope and depth of the film require. Nothing, including the potentially Jar Jar type character Dobbie, looks too fake so it's easy to accept everything you see as real. The entire world of Harry Potter is to some degree compromised of a special effect so I won't try to list them all. Some of my favorites included the previously mentioned, borderline ultra-violent, Quiddich match and the giant scary spider attack. Once released on DVD I will be able to see even more of the detail that sometimes distracts during the initial viewing. Those paintings that seem to adorn every inch of wall space at Hogwarts are especially diverting. I'm constantly drawn to them like the back ground scenery in the new Star Wars films.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great movie. I don't know if I'll ever read the books but as long as the films keep coming I'll always be there to see them. I am now officially a reluctant disciple. Long live Harry Potter! (...and Draco Malfoy!)