Archive Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

The first Harry Potter movie was kind of like a freak-out test for its creators: how much material do we use from the book? How loyal do we stay to it? How do we make this all come to life? “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” the film version of the second book in the fantasy series by J.K Rowling, shows less concern with these questions (though the book is the shortest of the series). Director Chris Columbus and his crew operate much more like a team that’s been here before, that knows the fantasy world it has created and how to make it better. Not to mention the material is a shade darker, the kids another year older (which at 12-13 makes a big difference) and the special effects light years better in comparison to the last years’ “Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“Sorcerer’s Stone” was sort of a childish family film, one worried about being too scary, whose major merits came merely from book-lovers’ excitement to see what was stuck in their heads come to life on the big screen — something its creators could bank on. Now that the Harry Potter world has been imagined once before, the trial period is over and Columbus and adapter Steve Kloves must really put themselves to the test. They definitely succeed: “Chamber of Secrets” is much more thrilling and visually complex, enough so to steal our minds from some of the story flaws that bled over from the first film (something all future Potter films will endure).

“Chamber of Secrets” is inherently a richer story — a mystery where death lurks at every turn and Hogwarts school, the wizarding school which Harry attends, is in imminent danger. When Harry arrives at school for his second year, students begin turning up petrified as word gets out that the legendary chamber of secrets, said to contain a monster, has been opened. It’s still a fantasy side venture that avoids the looming conflict between Harry and the great evil wizard who killed his parents, Lord Voldemort, but there’s a lot more at stake than the first story. Maybe it was unavoidable for Columbus to respond with a film more capable of frightening young children, but whereas a silly troll that might as well have been Shrek attacked Hogwarts last time, “Chamber of Secrets” loads up on creepy giant spiders that attack Harry and Ron, and Columbus doesn’t hold back. Thank goodness.

More UK all-stars join the cast this time around such as Kenneth Branagh as the new — and foolishly egotistical — defense against the dark arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Isaacs plays a sinister looking Lucius Malfoy, father of Draco, Harry’s arch schoolyard nemesis. More notably are the improvements in the nucleus trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Watson sheds some touching tears as Hermione, but the most improved award goes to Grint. He was adorable in “Socerer’s Stone,” but now he’s progressed to being a goofy, klutzy character that commands much more of the screen.

A much more exciting story awaits those who haven’t read the books or were not so impressed by “Sorcerer’s Stone.” Kloves’ script still crams a bit too much, but nothing goes in that doesn’t progress the mystery plot or deliver some sort of imaginative CGI sequence from flying cars to magical creatures. That’s at least an improvement over the last film. We also have a clearly defined lesson for Harry to learn as he begins his maturing process. There’s a definite sense of his growth.

A tip of the hat goes to a crew that learned enough the first time around to make great improvements to the second edition. This is more the young adult demographic that these movies need to hit on.

4/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steve Kloves, JK Rowling (book)
Starring by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh


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