‘Harry Potter’ at the movies: ‘Chamber of Secrets’ (2002) (Review)

My series looking back at the “Harry Potter” films continues with Year 2, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002):

WHY IT’S GREAT

“Sorcerer’s Stone” pioneered the idea of the faithful book-to-movie adaptation, but it’s choppy due to omissions of information, transitions and character-defining moments. “Chamber of Secrets” – again written by Steve Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus — is a much warmer edit. (This also pushes it beyond 2.5 hours, but for home viewing, who cares?) It includes several scenes of Harry, Ron and Hermione walking through the halls of Hogwarts, discussing the latest twist in the mystery of who opened the Chamber of Secrets. The trio truly feels like friends.

WHY IT’S NOT SO GREAT

Because they are strictly adapting J.K. Rowling’s book (and it’s arguably the series’ weakest book), the filmmakers miss a chance to enhance some underdeveloped parts. As such, Ginny remains a plot device rather than a character (her crush on Harry is mentioned once, then abandoned), and the audience is not given a fair chance to solve the mystery. Since “Secrets” uses a “Here’s what happened” coda to explain the Sword of Gryffindor anyway, it might’ve been neat to see Ginny explain what happened to her in a flashback, rather than Tom Riddle telling it in a hoary “villain explains his scheme” fashion.

BEST YOUNG CHARACTER AND ACTOR

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe): Radcliffe truly acts in this movie; there’s no sense that he’s being coached anymore. It’s fitting, because Harry – with key help from his friends, of course — becomes an active hero, solving the mystery of the chamber’s location by following clues. Additionally, he figures out how to defeat Riddle by puncturing the diary, and directs Ginny to safety even when he thinks he’s dying from the poisoned basilisk fang. We also see Harry’s empathy in smaller moments, such as his decency toward Moaning Myrtle and Dobby.

BEST ADULT CHARACTER AND ACTOR

Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs): With Voldemort still mostly a shadowy villain, and with Rowling playing coy with Snape, the saga needs a blunt villain. Isaacs’s words drip with hatred toward non-“purebloods,” and we understand how Lucius’ son, Draco, can express vile thoughts such as hoping the monster will kill Hermione next. Draco calling Hermione a “mudblood” adds a racism theme that shows this series gets more mature with each entry. It might’ve taken on an added layer if Hermione was black, as some theorize was Rowling’s original intent, or at least something she toyed with. (Hermione was played by a black actress in the debut of the “Cursed Child” stage play.)

BEST MOVIE MAGIC

Dobby. This was still the early days of full CGI characters, and while “Star Wars’ ” Jar Jar and “Lord of the Rings’ ” Gollum beat this troublemaking house-elf to the screen, it’s still a great achievement that he interacts with Harry so seamlessly. His annoying traits – making noise in Harry’s room, thus drawing the Dursleys’ ire – are not enough to overshadow his endearing qualities.

BEST COMEDIC BIT

“Chamber of Secrets” is short on humor, although it makes a noble attempt with the way all the girls are smitten by Professor Lockhart (Kenneth Branaugh) and the boys are flabbergasted by his supposed appeal. The running gag is light and broad, but it works as the saga’s initial foray into the theme of how people (even if otherwise smart) are influenced by media and celebrity.

BEST DRAMATIC BIT

When giant spider Aragog decides he’s going to let his children feast on Ron and Harry in the Forbidden Forest, Ron is right: It’s time to panic. In a series that mostly dodges mortal stakes up to this point – even Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, is petrified rather than killed – we get a sense that our heroes’ lives are in danger.

WHERE IT RANKS

Kloves and Columbus have figured out how to do this now, and “Chamber of Secrets” is a much better cinematic experience than “Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Book review: “Chamber of Secrets”

Next movie: “Prisoner of Azkaban”

 

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