Continuing our look at each film in the Harry Potter franchise as we lead up to the release of the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (to be released Wednesday!), today let’s check out 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, again directed by the non-explorer incarnation of Chris Columbus. Chamber of Secrets is the second book (and second movie) in the franchise and follows the events of Harry’s second year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the whacky shenanigans that he gets into. Along the way, Harry makes new discoveries that will alter the course of remaining Potter-dom. Let’s take a gander, shall we??
Harry Potter is back with those damn Dursleys for the summer, where—ironically—all he wants is to go back to school. Then, out of the blue, a house elf shows up in his bedroom, warning him that he must not return to Hogwarts for his second year. Harry replies with a hearty Fresh Prince-certified “Aw, hell naw!” and eventually leaves for school with the aid of Ron and his older identical twin brothers Fred and George.
When the school-year starts, it’s not long before Harry and co. stumble upon another malicious plot—someone intends to open the Chamber of Secrets, which will mean certain death for all Mud-bloods (a filthy term used to refer to anyone, witch or wizard, with a non-magic parent). Unfortunately for Hermione, she’s got herself a Muggle parent. So when she turns up petrified, frozen in a coma-like state, that’s when you know that shit’s about to go down! (Spoilers ahead)
Harry discovers that the Chamber of Secrets had been opened once before by a student named Tom Riddle and that it’s actually Riddle who’s trying to do it all over again by using Ron’s little sister Ginny to unknowingly do his bidding. And—surprise!—Riddle is actually the Hogwarts student who went on to become Lord Voldemort! Knowing that Riddle’s plan must be stopped, Harry goes into the Chamber of Secrets to put and end to all the madness. He succeeds, killing a gigantic snake and saving the day for Hogwarts once again (YAY!).
The Meat and Potatoes:
I really enjoy this movie, but it clearly has some issues. Still being directed by Chris Columbus, it suffers the same problem of the first film in that it’s simply got too much going on for what it is—at 161 minutes, it’s easily the longest Potter film, based on the second-shortest of the books. (Ironically, the shortest film is Order of the Phoenix, based on the longest of the books.) Columbus really isn’t good at making judgment calls as to what should be brought to the screen and what should go and how certain things might benefit from being played out a bit differently.
All of the subsequent films have decided to rid themselves of the character of Dobby, but here he is in this one, trolling around and acting a fool like Jar Jar Binks. Of course, Dobby is more vital to this story than any of the others (except maybe Deathly Hallows, but we’ve yet to see that movie yet), so his inclusion here was probably necessary…but did he have to be so annoying? Columbus still has that issue of talking down to the material, but he does a better job of reigning it in here as the story has taken a bit of a darker turn. Still, he has a tendancy to create a movie that speaks in broad strokes of ”Look at the snakey!! Yay!” rather than “Look at that snake. Isn’t that fucked up?” Remember when family movies weren’t afraid of being dark and strange? Chris Columbus sure as hell doesn’t.
Let’s focus on what this movie gets right for a moment, though. First off, we get a very solid story that works as a standalone piece–without needing the other films for full exposition or enjoyment. Also, Kenneth Branagh is just priceless as the humbug of a vain bastard Gilderoy Lockhart, the wizard brought in to replace Professor Quirrell in teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. It’s the longest of the films, but it’s pretty brisk and involving. I saw this one in the theater with a Potter fan who couldn’t find anyone else to go with him. As I said yesterday, I had seen Sorcerer’s Stone about a month prior, so I was up to speed, but not really a fan just yet. This one really sucked me in to the Potter-verse. So, if for nothing else, I enjoy this one for the fact that, while I hadn’t started to visit the books yet (that wouldn’t come for awhile), it at least got me to the point where I was actively looking forward to the next movie. And oh, that next movie is just terrific!
Why You’ve Gotta See It:
I kinda have a snake thing—a huge damn snake thing. In short, I think they’re the most horrifying and evil beasts on the entire planet and their reign of terror must be stopped. So it’s pretty damn satisfying to see Harry take that sword and really stick it to that son of a bitchin’ snake—stick it right up his ugly fucking face! Aside from my spite for one of God’s many glorious and majestic creatures, it really is a rousing moment and one of the first signals that maybe this whole Potter thing isn’t just kiddy-fare. Maybe it’s like all those crazy snake-slaying shenanigans from Conan the Barbarian! (Fun fact: The snake here is also played by James Earl Jones…okay no it isn’t, but that would be awesome!!!))
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be checking out the welcome exit of Chris Columbus and the grand entrance of Alfonso Cuaron with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!