Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
We don’t need to panic
We don’t need to panic
While browsing through my own website right here, I noticed that aside from Half-Blood Prince, I had only reviewed the even-numbered Harry Potter movies. Now this is not some kind of favoritism that I have for the odd numbered entries, just a humorous observation that came to my attention during my browsing time. But now I can remedy that with this review of Chamber of Secrets, which is the second entry for those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series (and if you aren’t, where have you been for the past decade!). So the question is how does it stack up since the time of its release and against the later chapters that followed it (and Sorcerer’s Stone for that matter)?
Plot Synopsis: Things have only marginally improved for Harry Potter at home with his relatives, the Dursleys. He has finally made it out of the staircase cupboard and into a real bedroom, but the Dursleys still treat him like a slave and bastard stepchild. One day, Harry gets an unexpected visit from a house elf named Dobby, who warns him of a dangerous plot at Hogwarts that threatens Harry’s life. Harry ignores the warning, and leaves that night when his friends Ron, Fred, and George Weasley arrive in their flying car and spring him from the prison of his relatives' house. After getting reacquainted with the Weasley family, including Ron’s sister Ginny, Harry, they go off to Diagon Alley to get their schoolbooks, where they meet the new Hogwarts Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart. After missing the train, Harry and Ron decide to take the flying car to school, where the vicious Womping Willow tree attacks them. Things start out relatively normal during the school year, until Harry starts hearing mysterious voices coming from within the school walls. During his investigation of the voices, Harry comes across a message written in blood that states that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione look into the matter, they discover a plot that dates back 50 years and involves a mysterious boy named Tom Riddle.
I guess the first thing I should say is that Chamber of Secrets is an improvement on Sorcerer’s Stone, if only a mild one. The storyline is more involving, the actors have grown comfortably into their roles, and the special effects are more seamlessly integrated. One issue that still exists is the amount of story kept in from the book. It is worth knowing that Chamber of Secrets is the longest movie in the series, despite being one of the shorter books. Some events, mostly in the first half hour, could have been taken out or rewritten in order to tighten up the pace. The movie still rolls along at a relatively nice clip, but less may have been better. Returning director Chris Columbus shows that he has become more assured with the material, and doesn’t get as distracted with some of the class scenes like in Sorcerer’s Stone. The light, warm touch that comes with his directing style is still present, but Columbus doesn’t shy away when things get dark and grim. Chamber is a darker movie than Stone, and the sense of danger for not just Harry, but the entire school, has been played up even more. Also worth noting is that the special effects have been given a noticeable boost in quality, with examples like the giant spider army and deadly Basilisk standing out as the best.
Pretty much every actor and actress returns from the first movie to reprise his or her roles, and they are just as great as ever, if not better. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all seem more relaxed in their lead roles as Harry, Ron and Hermione respectively. Watson in particular gets more moments to show acting her abilities and Grint’s sense of humor shines through even more this time around. Radcliffe also feels less forced with his dialogue, and comes off as more natural (after writing reviews for five of these movies, it’s getting increasingly hard to say anything besides that they have improved, but I’m trying). One bright addition to the cast is Kenneth Branagh as Lockhart, who uses every chance he gets to play up the character’s pompous attitude. Of course we love it when the character finally gets his comeuppance, but watching Branagh chew through his scenes with relish is a delight. Also making quite the first impression as an evil character is Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father. All the actors playing the returning teachers do just as well, maybe slightly better, during their second go around such as Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, and Richard Harris (his last role before passing away) as Snape, Hagrid, and Dumbledore respectively.
One interesting addition of note to those unfamiliar with the novels is the idea of tensions between pure-blood and mud-blood wizards, sort of like the wizard form of segregation and race. Pure-bloods, such as the Malfoy family, are those with all magical blood in the family heritage, as opposed to the mud-bloods like Hermione who is a witch but has Muggle (non-wizard) parents. Rather than being merely window dressing though, these tensions are woven into the plot at various points in order to explain some of the character’s motivations. It’s one of those aspects that don’t seem important, but when you look deeper you realize how much impact that it really has. You know things like production design, music, and small visual details (things I myself as a reviewer should pay more attention too). John William’s indelible music score has made its return and has been expanded a little in order to adapt to the darker tone. The set designers also seem to have gotten a bit more creative during this adventure, with standouts like the Weasley’s home ("The Burrow") and the titular Chamber of Secrets. The Chamber is quite a unique sight on its own, with the green tinted snake architecture and overall wet and dirty feel adding to the atmosphere.
Most sequels usually copy what made the original such a hit and coast on that success without making any improvements or changes. Chamber of Secrets doesn’t make any major changes to the formula set by Sorcerer’s Stone, but it takes the flaws that were present before and modifies them so that they work better in context.