Im not a Harry Potter fan. Not that Im a Harry Potter hater. I just havent read any of the books and didnt even manage to get around to watching the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Nonetheless, with few explanations from my friends who are more knowledgeable about the Harry Potter phenomenon, I found the second installment of the franchise (and by god, it is a franchise), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to be an enjoyable, well-made movie that tells a pretty good story.
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At the beginning of Chamber of Secrets, our hero, young warlock-in-training Harry James Potter, is back at home with his Muggle (non-magical) aunt and uncle for summer vacation from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Poor Harrys friends from Hogwarts havent written him all summer, and he cant practice his magic. Of course, in stereotypical fashion as old as Cinderella, his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, as well as his cousin Dudley, treat Harry as an unfortunate burden thrust upon them. In fact, when his uncle has important Masons visiting one evening, Harry is to stay upstairs in his room, quiet as a mouse. Of course, a visit from a house elf name Dobby, on a mission to warn Harry to stay away from Hogwarts this upcoming school year for fear of his life, ruins that plan, and Harry is in more trouble than ever with his uncle.
But soon enough, with some help from his friend Ronald Weasley and a flying car, Harry is back at Hogwarts, happy to see his friends, study his magic, and play Quidditch again. But all is not well. Harry and his friends Ronald and Hermione Granger soon learn of the hidden Chamber of Secrets and the threat it poses to Hogwarts and its students. At the same time, Harry must deal with his old rival, Draco Malfoy and his father, Lucius, as well as allegations against his friend Hagrid. For being based upon a childrens book, the story is surprisingly well-done, with enough twists and turns to keep adults mostly interested during the movies 2 ½ hours length.
As expected, the special effects are masterful. They dont have the impact and wonder of some of Lucas work in the new Star Wars trilogy (but who does?) or even Lord of the Rings, but theyre close. Part of their success can be attributed to simplicity flying cars and giant spiders that nonetheless appeal particularly well to kids. The spiders were especially unnerving at times, as even some of us adults retain that childhood aversion to them. Of special note is the elf Dobby, a completely computer-generated character in the vein of Jar Jar Binks or Yoda. Hes funnier than Jar Jar without being so annoying, and he might even seem as cool as Yoda if he got to battle evil with the Force and a lightsaber instead of mere magic spells.
Although the effects dont quite measure up to Star Wars, Chamber of Secrets more than makes up for that with its far superior acting. While no Tatum ONeal lurks among the child actors, their fresh faces deliver their lines with alternating youthful enthusiasm and trepidation. Robbie Coltrane returns as Hagrid, and is solid as the giant is himself. Kenneth Branagh delivers much of the humor of the film as the pompous Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, self-proclaimed hero. Jason Isaacs can sneer with the best of them, and does so here as Lucius Malfoy. One disappointment is the reduction of Warwick Davis as Professor Filius Flitwick to a mere cameo. I was happy to see the old Ewok out of Leprechaun movies, but hes not even given a single line here. Also, while Richard Harris certainly doesnt embarrass himself as Professor Dumbledore, it is a bit sad that his last role will be this one, a supporting role in a childrens movie, with his lively features hidden behind a waist-length beard and heavy make-up. Tis better to remember him as Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator.
Overall, what really stands out about Chamber of Secrets is the sheer quality of the final product. While it wont be an Oscar winner and perhaps it runs a bit long, director Christopher Columbus has made a superb film, with vivid images, solid acting, and a good story. He has literally brought to life a universe that existed within the pages of author J.K. Rowlings series of books. While some of the scenes cater only to a childs level, overall, its a film that can be enjoyed by everyone. Ill admit Im even looking forward to catching up with the first film this weekend, as Ive promised my wife.
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