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Daniel Radcliffe
Emma Watson
Rupert Grint
Richard Harris
Maggie Smith
Kenneth Branagh
Shirley Henderson
Robbie Coltrane
Alan Rickman
Jason Isaacs

Chris Columbus



Original Novel

Time: 161 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Family

Though I'm a big fan of the novels, I'm beginning to think I'm too old and jaded to enjoy their transfer to the big screen. There's nothing entrancing, mysterious or magical about either film in this series, though THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS at least makes for a better cinematic experience. With no plodding back story to explain, the hijinks kick in right away with Harry's rescue from his aunt and uncle's home in the Weasley's flying car. While this should thrust us joyfully back into the wonderful world of Hogwarts, I wasn't as excited as I hoped to be. Columbus again seems more concerned with including all the special effects and magical creatures, than with building the character of our young hero. In the novels, we get to experience Harry's thoughts and feelings, to understand his fears and motivations. As presented here, he's just along for the ride like the rest of us, moving from one dangerous situation to another.

Through no fault of Radcliffe's, we only get flashes of Harry's intelligence, inner strength and gravity. This is a young boy with a lot on his mind and the film plays out more like a video game – all action, no heart. Because there are so many major plot points to include, the joy in unraveling the mystery is lost. It's not exactly so much revealed as blatantly told. Children are smarter than given credit for and a little subtlety would have gone a long way. That being said, THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is a better film than the first, but just barely. Mostly because the plot is focused on one story instead of illuminating a whole new world. Harry's second year at Hogwarts begins with a strange visit from a house elf named Dobby, who begs Harry to stay away. A horrible plot is afoot and the school is not safe. Harry ignores the warning and returns anyway. Hogwarts is his home. Almost immediately awful things begin to happen. It seems the Chamber of Secrets, an old school legend, has been opened, which is causing havoc amongst the student body. Unfortunately for some students, those not from pure blood wizard families, the resurgence of the myth has potentially deadly connotations.

"Even in the wizarding world, hearing voices isn't a good sign."

The rumors become horribly serious when several of the students, including Hermione, are found petrified. Many of the students believe that Harry is behind the attacks because he always happens to find the victims and because he speaks parseltongue, as did the Chamber's creator Salazar Slytherin. A mysterious diary from a past student and a clue left behind by Hermione, puts Harry and Ron on the track to catching the evil culprit trying to shut down the school and hurt mudblood students. Harry, of course, disobeys the rules and winds up saving the school, winning the battle against his old nemesis once more. If at all possible, Ron and Hermione have even less to do in this installment than in the first. Granted, Hermione is stuck in a petrified state for much of the film, but fans of their characters are sure to be disappointed. Ron may accompany Harry into several dangerous situations – the spiders' lair was extremely creepy – but his major contributions to those sequences seems to be making horrified faces and screaming. Though her screen time is somewhat limited, Watson breathes real intelligence and gumption into Hermione, making her a true stand out.

Smith, Harris and Rickman reprise their roles as the elder Hogwarts wizards. Their presence gives the film class, yet their full acting powers are hardly explored. Branagh joins the cast as the schools latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. His turn as Gilderoy Lockhart, the world-famous, egocentric author/master wizard, has its' amusing moments, but, yet again, what we learn about this character could fill a thimble. As a person, Lockhart is as shallow as a puddle, even in the novel, but I still wanted more. One character I could have done with less of was Moaning Myrtle. No offense to Shirley Henderson, she made her just as annoying and whiny as she was in the novel, which is exactly why I wanted to choke her. The two characters who make you stand up and take notice are Dobby, a house elf believably created by CGI, and Lucius Malfoy, played delightfully by Jason Isaacs. Malfoy had few scenes, but his disdain and hatred for Harry and his friends sent chills up the spine. His son Draco is a mindless punk, but Lucius is an enemy to watch out for. Dobby is enchantingly annoying, capturing his persona from the novel perfectly.

As for Daniel Radcliffe, he seems much more comfortable in his role of wizard hero, tackling all of life's "little" challenges with intelligence, heart and humor. He gives Harry the right mixture of bravado and immaturity with a touch of incredulity to keep it honest. After all, life as a wizard is still fairly new to Harry. The plot allows him to learn a bit more about himself and his abilities in between constantly running for his life. A few more quiet moments would have gone a long way to creating a better connection between Harry and his fans. His constant flouting of the rules is a trait many parents may find hard to swallow, even if his reasons are generally honorable. However, if he didn't there wouldn't be much of a story.

What Columbus and company manages to get very right is the look and feel of this magical world. The art direction, creature creation, costume design and makeup is fantastic. It's no wonder children love the films. It's an amazing thing to see such a vibrant and unique world brought to life before your eyes. Without such attention to detail, these films would be completely unbearable. The plot is well-developed, but, yet again, it feels slow and hurried all at the same time. God knows I don't want the film to be longer, but hopefully a new director for the third installment will solve the problem between the constant action and lack of character development. Regardless, if you're under twelve, you're going to love this movie. It's chock full of thrills, chills and a kick-ass ending that almost makes the first 2 hours more enjoyable. Adult fans will most likely be disappointed, however, since we're not the intended audience I don't think the filmmakers care.

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