Science fiction and fantasy
The Chamber of Secrets
directed by Chris Columbus
The film opens with Harry back at the Dursleys for summer, and still being mistreated by them. He's forbidden to use his magic by school rules, so there's nothing he can do about this. We're introduced to Dobby the house elf, who appears in Harry's bedroom (no longer the cupboard under the stairs), and warns him not to return to Hogwarts. Dobby is an entirely computer animated character, and quite a detailed one. Nevertheless aspects of his movement don't fit in with the human actors, and he has a certain cartoonish quality. This fits in with all the slapstick humour Dobby is responsible for. The Chamber of Secrets has slapstick in bucketloads, and in places it's a very funny film.
Another new character is Gilderoy Lockhart, the vain and incompetent Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. Kenneth Branagh is a natural for this role, and his luvvie posing experience stands him in good stead. Lockhart is more at home in front of an audience than a classroom, a larger than life guy who brings a comic touch to all the darkest moments.
Draco Malfoy is back as before, but this time we're introduced to his father Lucius. His long white-blonde hair and dark robes mark him out as a villain even before we hear him speak. Part of the charm of the wizard world is the pre-Dickensian fashion timewarp it's stuck in, which is why he can get away with this look. He's the wizard equivalent of a Nazi, despising muggles and favouring wizards of pure wizard blood. Jason Isaacs plays the creepy bad guy with relish, out to get all the muggle-born wizards.
When Harry and Ron try to board the Hogwart's Express they find the platform mysteriously closed. They have to fly to school in an enchanted car, breaking school rules and getting beaten up by a tree on the way. Then a little into the start of term, the caretaker's cat is petrified and a sinister message is scrawled in blood on the wall. As the mystery deepens more pupils are petrified, and nobody knows who is responsible. Harry begins to hear murderous voices that nobody else can. The finger of suspicion even points at him because of his rare ability to talk to snakes.
This being a Harry Potter film, there are plenty of strange and wonderful creatures to marvel at, including squealing mandrakes and giant spiders. The detail of the scenery and the costumes is as lavish as in the first film. Even better is the Quidditch. Only one match, against Slytherin, is shown, but watching it feels like being a passenger in a runaway rocket. A bludger has been tampered with and is about to do Harry some serious damage whilst he tries to capture the golden snitch in order to win the game. It's a frenzied scene, far faster than the Quidditch of the first film.
Rated PG, there are somewhat violent moments when Harry and Ron have to confront their fears. But it's mostly scary in a clean, non-gruesome way that shouldn't give children nightmares.
The Chamber of Secrets is a longer book than The Philosopher's Stone, so inevitably it had to be condensed and some parts missed out. I think however that at 3 hours even the most diehard fans should be satisfied that it's as long as it could be. At that length it's already pushing the boundaries for a children's film, and few children could concentrate for any more time. Barely a moment is wasted, and if anything could be said to be wrong with this movie than this is it. As an adult who has read the books I picked up on the subtle nuances of meaning. But would this be true of a child, or someone who hadn't read the story first? I can't say, but the film doesn't take time to labour any points. Personally I think that's a plus point, but it depends who is watching.
Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party is cut from the movie, as is the explanation of why caretaker Filch despises the students. These points don't really affect the plot though. Another aspect to go is the sense of the passage of time. The action takes place over a year but unless you pay attention to what is said and to all the visual clues, it has the feeling of going by in about a week or two. These are minor points though, because it begins and ends with the summer holidays.
Received wisdom is that sequels are usually lesser films. With a first movie that took in a billion pounds, The Chamber of Secrets has a lot to live up to. In my view it's even better than the first. It's fun, fast and packed with great effects, and extremely feelgood, something that parents can enjoy as much as their kids. It's definitely the sort of movie that's best seen on the big screen, ice-cream in hand and disguised as a child. There's nothing significant wrong with it, in fact it's fantastic. Get in your enchanted flying car and go and see it.
If you like this, try:Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by David Yates
Can Harry do anything to prevent Voldemort from taking over the world of wizards in his sixth year at Hogwarts?
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Is this a book, or a phenomenon? Harry enters his fifth year at Hogwarts.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts is the most dramatic yet.
Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Chris Columbus
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