Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

As the line waiting to see the 6:15 showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets snaked all the way back to theater # 20 and back around to the concession stand, I reflected on the hype that this film has caused. (I am guilty of fostering this hype, for anyone who knows me, fondly remembers this last week with my constant “Two days to HP2!,” and I am not even a huge fan of Harry Potter!) This adaptation of book 2 in the eventual 7 part series is worthy of its pre-debut hype. While a step down from the first film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret’s is the perfect companion piece.

One of my favorite aspects to Harry Potter film franchise is its self-contained stories, however, being able to develop the characters in a universal fashion. One can watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets without having seen Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher’s Stone because each are its own adventure. After initially watching the first Potter film, I felt content because there was a conclusion, however, I knew there would be more (similar to the first Star Wars movie). This was not the case with the first Lord of the Rings film, which is basically one 9 hour movie that was split into thirds.

Considering Harry Potter is an international phenomenon, and this is the second movie, I will skip the character introductions and the basic continuing, movie-to-movie plot. With that in mind, Harry Potter did not have a good summer. He has had to put up with the Dursley’s for 3 grueling months. Worst of all, he has not received a single note from best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

Shortly before his second year at Hogwarts is to begin, a strange creature named Dobby, who speaks in the third person, pops up in his room. Dobby tells Harry that something bad will happen if he returns to Hogwarts. In an effort to thwart Harry’s return, Dobby intercepted all of Hermione’s and Ron’s letters, and goes on to disrupt Harry’s return.

Without revealing too much of the essential plot, terrible things have been happening at Hogwarts. A mysterious voice is haunting Harry, and then something starts turning students to stone, and leaving messages about a “Chamber of Secrets.” Everyone at Hogwarts suspects Harry Potter of these goings on, but its Harry’s job to find out who is really behind it...or could they be right, and is he the cause of this?

I am perhaps the perfect person to review such a movie. I am never offended by, nor swept away with “Harry Potter Mania,” and I have not read the novels. Thus, I am reviewing the movies as just that, movies. And its obvious that The Chamber of Secrets is a great adventure of a film, and it comes very close to the quality of the first.

The Chamber of Secrets’ plot is by far more mature than the one of Sorcerer’s Stone. The suspects and reasons for the evil events happening at Hogwarts are by far more cloudy. I did understand the story of Chamber, however, it took me a while to sort through all the different characters and their involvement of this evil plot. However, this little flub at the end of the movie is the olny major flaw about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and that is quite an accomplishment for a production of this magnitude.

A sure sign that a sequel doesn’t quite live up to the original is the importance placed upon special effects, and while the special effects just enhanced the already illustrious story, in the second movie, the creators are relaying more heavily on the special effects to keep the story moving forward. There are A LOT more special effects in general, and a lot of them seemed pointless.

Don’t let my few qualms about The Chamber of Secrets give you the wrong impression of the overall quality of the film. This is a good movie. The movie blends a great story with action quite well, and its few hiccups along the way don’t really deter us from feeling good about the experience of seeing this movie.

The Sorcerer’s Stone lead us along the entire film believing that Professor Snape was behind the evil occuring at Hogwarts, and at the end, we are thrown for a loop. In The Chamber of Secrets, we are constantly shifting our suspicions. For an audience a year older, it works. I quite enjoyed the feeling of never quite having a chief suspect.

For a running time of 261 minutes we never really feel it, the movie rolls along at a good pace. I was worried that by the final scene I would be rolling my head and gasping for air, but I was pleasantly surprised. Its only during the extended climax do we ever glance at our watches. And for a movie this long, that’s pretty damn good.

The Harry Potter films, both this one and the first should be commended for being able to attract both adults and children. There is something so universally appealing about Harry Potter, and the movie does a fantastic job and taking this appealing trait about the books and effectively translating it onto to film. Along with this is the publicity for Chamber of Secrets. While not having the amount of hype as the first did (how could it?), it did do a good job of sustaining a level of interest in Harry Potter, especially since the long awaited fifth book is STILL vacant of book shelves.

It has been said all along that this movie will be much darker and scarier than the first, and boy is that true. I found myself very scared at times, and at other times, simply scared silly. (Why did there have to be huge spiders? Why God? Why?) Not to mentioned giant spiders, there is also a very large, and very scary serpent, and blood. Its really a wonder why this film was able to sustain a PG rating. However, I suspect that that will change as of The Prisoner of Azkaban: the director of that third film will be Alfonso Cuaron, who’s recent film. Y Tu Mama Tambien, was the equivalent of a soft-core porn movie.

Before the release of The Chamber of Secrets, it has been much discussed that the three current actors who play the children, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, would only star in the first three films. It is very obvious in this second installment that the three leads have grown. They are all significantly taller, and Rupert Grint’s voice is deep. Its very upsetting to know that we will only get to see these young stars as Harry, Ron, and Hermione once more (in Harry Potter and the Prisioner of Azkaban) because they are all very good. Their acting has been refined since the first, and even then it was better than some of the multi-million dollar a film actors and actresses working in Hollywood today. Rupert Grint takes on more of a comedic role in this film, and it works for him. Daniel Radcliffe is commanding as Harry. However, it is Emma Watson who steals the show once again. She has serious potential for success as an adult in the acting business.

When a film comes along that is supported by its opening night hype, its important that the film be of a certain quality. Sometimes a movie is able to surpass the hype and actually work as a movie (the first Harry Potter and Jurassic Park), and other times not (Spider-Man). For director Chris Columbus and his crew, it is a great achievement that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is in fact able to stand with the first film as a solid movie, and not a piece of over marketed trash.

© 2002 Jacob Sproul

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