It’s bad enough that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has not had a good summer, spending it with his Aunt (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle (Richard Griffiths) and their dread of his magical abilities, but it also seems as if Harry’s best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have forgotten him – as they haven’t replied to a single one of his letters.
Then, suddenly and mysteriously, a house-elf named Dobby appears and warns Harry of great danger if he should attempt to return to Hogwarts for his second year. Dobby tries to stop Harry, but fails. Ron, manning his parents’ flying car, arrives at the household and rescues Harry so they can return to Hogwarts.
The duo attempt to enter Platform 9 and board the Hogwarts Express back to school, but they’re mysteriously blocked and must take emergency action to avoid being late for the term. The entrance blocking is merely the beginning of the odd events that await Harry and his companions. A voice whispers from the walls to our young hero in a language he surprisingly can understand. Students are found “petrified” (scared stiff, if you will) and warnings begin to appear on walls in blood. It seems that someone has opened the Chamber of Secrets, a hidden and legendary place at Hogwarts created 50 years ago by Slytherin, one of the school’s founders and a rumored relative to Harry.
The good news is that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a better film than last year’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The bad news is that this film series still has a lot of work ahead of it to do. Chamber benefits from more action and humor, improved visual effects and reduced setup time in the film’s first act. Yet, at 162 minutes, Chamber of Secrets is at least 30 minutes and three unsatisfying endings too long for this cinematic muggle.
Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves still seem to be constricted by series author J.K. Rowling. Under the impression that her novels are Holy Scripture (it’s not), Columbus and Kloves seem afraid to condense situations, remove weak secondary characters or change events that have no bearing on the plot in the name of better filmmaking. We’ve all complained about films not being faithful to the book. The Harry Potter series seems to suffer from the opposite: they’re too faithful.
The three young leads have grown nicely into their roles, displaying more confidence and maturity in their performances, while Kenneth Branagh, as the egotistical professor Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Issacs as the villainous Lucius Malfoy are welcome new additions to the cast. The computer-generated character Dobby, is not. It’s such an irritating character that he makes Jar Jar Binks likeable in comparison. Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane make the most of their small roles, as does the late Richard Harris, who remains dignified despite his illness. One cannot help but watch his scenes with some sadness.
As was the case last year, it will be the legions of worldwide Harry Potter fans that will enjoy this film the most. Since they have no problem with the marathon running times or Rowling’s suffocating control over the material, I doubt that much will change when we see the next instalment in Summer 2004.