HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie
Coltraine, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan
Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
Director: Chris Columbus
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 161 Minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2003
“What can this mean, Albus?”
“It means our students are in
great danger. It is as we feared,
Minerva…the Chamber of Secrets has indeed been opened again.”
It’s so rare that a sequel manages to surpass its
original that when it happens, the praises should be trumpeted loud and long.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets takes a supremely
confident step forward, building on the foundation set by the original, and
offers up stronger character development, a more smartly constructed storyline,
and a world of even more enchantment and mystique.
The film starts off on the eve of another school year at
Hogwarts. Harry Potter (Radcliffe)
is still having home problems, but school may not be quite the refuge for him it
was a year ago. An elfin servant
named Dobby arrives to warn him not to return to the school, as great danger
After a spectacular flying car sequence gets Harry to his
destination, he and his old friends Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger
(Watson) find old acquaintances and new, including the pompous professor of
protection against dark spells Lockhart (Branagh), who doesn’t turn out to be
much of a help when a dark mystery rooted in decades of history at the school
begins to unravel.
Hogwarts is bigger and more mysterious than even its most
noted professors fully realize, and an old secret resurrects to threaten both
the students and the institution itself. A
deadly Chamber of Secrets has been opened…but by who, and why?
As fellow classmates become “petrified” by the appearance of whatever
dwells in the Chamber, it’s up to Harry and his friends to unravel the enigma
of what happened at Hogwarts some fifty years prior in hopes of stopping the
menace from destroying the school and all who dwell in it!
That’s the plot in a few sentences, but it doesn’t
begin to hint at what a glorious film this is.
Director Chris Columbus and his talented team have once again created a
magical, mysterious world in which to place characters and tell a story, and
their canvas is rich and expansive. Every
corner of every frame is filled with remarkable detail and imagination; no bit
was spared in bringing author J. K. Rowling’s novel to vivid life.
The world of the film is fantastic, yet believable, for it never missteps
or miscues to take you out of the spirit of its wonderful moments.
But for me, as before, the main attraction is the cast of
kids, all of whom wear the effects of their maturation process with dignity in
their second approach to their characters.
Daniel Radcliffe in particular is evolving into a fine young actor, as he
takes to the recreation of one of modern literature’s most popular characters
with confidence and understanding. The
more real Harry is to us, the more involved we are in the story, and Mr.
Radcliffe never falters. His
costars continue to be an enjoyable presence as well, as Rupert Grint continues
to inject Ron with a plucky good heart despite his aversion to danger, and Emma
Watson gets to bring more dimension to the amusing spunk of Hermione.
The chemistry between the three is warm and genuine…they make the
journey through the film most worthwhile.
Of course, the youngsters continue to be supported by a
terrific cast of seasoned pros, from the late great Richard Harris to the
eternal Maggie Smith, from the cheeriness of John Cleese and Robbie Coltrane to
the edgy decency of Alan Rickman and more.
Kenneth Branagh, the newest veteran edition, seems to be having a
wonderful time playing the arrogant but inept Lockhart.
My only real complaint is in yet the emergence of ANOTHER
annoying CGI character…in this case, the elfin Dobby, who refers to himself in
third person more than Bob Dole and is essentially another off the assembly line
that first gave us Jar-Jar Binks. I
can only presume the character was written that way, not having read the books
myself but understanding the dedication of cast and crew to preserve Rowling’s
text on screen. Thankfully, his
screen time is minimal. Michael
Jacobson appreciated that very much indeed.
That minor quibble aside, this is a film that will absorb
and engross an audience from start to finish, regardless of age.
I questioned the running time of the first movie, whether or not it was a
good idea for a film mostly aimed at kids to be nearly 2 and a half hours.
This one is even longer, clocking in at 2 and three quarters, but I never
felt a minute of the time drag by. The
best stories will keep you riveted for any length of time, while the weaker ones
will make 80 minutes seem like an eternity.
I’m grateful for these films. My generation had pictures like Willy Wonka and The
Neverending Story, and every generation has enjoyed The Wizard of Oz…all
films of fantasy and enchantment that allow you to spend time in a perfectly
realized world where anything could happen, and probably would.
The Harry Potter films are taking this tradition to the next
level, and preserving the spirit of pure movie magic for the new millennium.
If The Sorcerer’s Stone proved to cast, crew and
audiences alike that it could be done at all, The Chamber of Secrets demonstrated
that there was no limit to what COULD be done.
I, for one, will certainly offer a heartfelt “welcome back, Potter”
to the next installment.
Simply outstanding…very few films are as demanding of
DVD’s capabilities as this one is, and even fewer DVDs live up to the
challenge. Chamber of Secrets is
a stylistic cornucopia of colors, images, tones and shades. Every extreme from the gorgeously bright and vivid to the
murkiest darkness is represented here with full integrity and clarity.
Detail is never compromised, and that’s crucial, because not many
movies are as indulgent in detail as these are.
Ever color renders beautifully, every subtle shade is distinct and clear,
no grain or compression to spoil the view.
This is as good as it gets!
Likewise, the 5.1 soundtrack is a multi-layered, action
packed treat. Whether it’s the
sounds of flying cars, whomping trees, a more fast paced Quidditch game than
ever before, or simply the sound of the dialogue or John Williams’ rich score,
this extended Dolby Digital track is full, dynamic, well-balanced and clear, and
will keep you in the middle of the events…sometimes, maybe even too close for
As with the original DVD, Chamber of Secrets offers quantity but not quality. If reading the back of the disc got you excited about the features, actually going through them will be somewhat of a let down. Disc One of the set boasts cast and crew info, but no talent files…merely a list of who does what. Trailers for both the first and second Harry Potter films complete the disc.
Disc Two features everything else, but from the start, the
DVD frustrates. You can’t see all
the menu options printed out on the screen…you have to move the cursor around
to make the selections appear! Then
as you do that, actually finding what you want is somewhat of a quest worthy of
Harry, Ron and Hermione.
There are 19 deleted/extended scenes, most of which are
self evident why they were cut or truncated, but for those who can’t get
enough of Dobby, there’s extra stuff here.
Interview segments with the students and faculty are included, but most
are no more than soundbites. Better
is an interview with author J. K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves…at
least there’s some humor and insight into the creative process.
For the kids, there are games and interactive tours…for
example, you can test your spellcaster knowledge by identifying the effects of
spells cast in the film, or you can tour Dumbledore’s office, the Chamber of
Secrets, Lockhart’s class, Diagon Alley and more…in some cases, your
knowledge of trivia will help a great deal.
You can even take a look at the process of set design.
DVD ROM extras round out the package.
Overall, it sounds like a lot, but there’s very little material of
substance here. Making matters
worse are the extremely lengthy menu screen openings that you can’t skip past
and the notably slow response time in making selections.