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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the COS

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Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, and Kenneth Branagh

Directed by Chris Columbus

Rated PG, 161 minutes


While some of the flaws in the first movie have been addressed and rectified, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ultimately relies too much on coincidence and Things Unexplained to be a satisfying story.


The movie opens with the gifted Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) a prisoner in his uncle’s (Richard Griffiths) home. Why the uncle is so insistent about a boy he despises not leaving isn’t really explained in this movie, but I guess the presumption is that we’ve all seen the first one. He is soon freed from the home by amiable friend Ron (Rupert Grint), piloting a flying car.


It is when the gang is reunited at Hogwarts School that the story really begins. Mysterious things are happening: Harry begins hearing voices, several students end up petrified, and ominous inscriptions are written in blood on the walls. Chamber of Secrets is definitely darker in tone than its predecessor, and the more malevolent mood serves the film well.


The unusual happenings are related to the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, a place that is obviously meant to be referred to only in sotto voce. The school faces the possibility of closing, Headmaster Dumbledore (the recently late Richard Harris, who plays the role with typical excellence and very understated power) is forced to step down, and popular gamekeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) is arrested for his role in opening the Chamber fifty years previous. Of course, saving the day is the usual intrepid trio of twelve year-olds: Harry, Ron, and the uber-bright Hermione (Emma Watson). When Hermione is petrified, it’s just Harry and Ron against whatever awaits them in the Chamber of Secrets.


Chamber of Secrets is ultimately a children’s story, so I’m not spoiling anything by saying there’s a happy ending. All ends up right with the world, despite some much tenser moments for Harry along the way. While the ending of the first film was incredibly contrived, Chamber of Secrets has a much more suspenseful denouement, which should keep the adults interested throughout the film (which ends up about a half-hour too long).


While The Sorcerer’s Stone spent time setting everything up and over-explaining, Chamber of Secrets is able to better develop the characters (something that was glaringly missing from the first flick) and jump into the story with both feet. The reason for Hermione’s bookish overachievement is finally explained to those of us who hadn’t read the first book: she was born to two non-magical parents. Little things like that go a long way in the storytelling. Also, the CGI is much better this time around, noticed most obviously in the much better Quidditch match. The film tackles some more grown-up material glossed over in the first installment, particularly racism, shown in the hatred of children, like Hermione, who were born to “Muggle” parents. Leading the charge is Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and his sinister father Lucius (Jason Isaacs). The fact that Lucius is a caricature bordering on farce does little to enhance this undertone, but at least it’s there. Another plus is the brilliant performance of Kenneth Branagh, who plays the ultimately empty blowhard Professor Lockhart with perfect panache.


Magic is also given a more prominent role in the film. The children actually cast more than a handful of spells, and the comic relief of having something blow up in every magic scene is gone. Also, Harry talks to serpents in their own language (an important element completely glossed over in The Socerer’s Stone). The de-emphasis of magic in the first movie was a nod to fanatical religious imbeciles, who somehow felt that the pretend casting of spells in a movie marketed for children was somehow the work of Satan. It’s good to see Warner Bros. grew something of a spine for the sequel.


The glaring negative in the movie, though, is its reliance to coincidence to resolve troublesome plot scenarios. I’m a firm believer in a very basic premise of fiction: in order to take the gun off of the wall, you must first put the gun on the wall. If you don’t, that’s coincidence. I can live with one coincidence. The second one becomes annoying, and by the eighth or so, I’m reminded via sledgehammer to the head that I’m watching a Harry Potter (and Chris Columbus) film. Take the scene in the Dark Forest, when the boys are about to be eaten by a band of large spiders: a completely unexplained coincidence gets them out of the scenario. Ditto the ending sequence, which, despite its strengths, is resolved by several coincidences, all of which benefit our resident Boy Wonder.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a good movie to take the kids to see. They’re bound to enjoy it, especially if they’ve already read JK Rowling’s incredibly popular books. When the kids grow into adults, however, and gain the power of discretion, the movie doesn’t hold up nearly so well. The continual use of coincidences as major plot resolutions is especially irksome, and detracts from the improvements this film made over the first one. I’ll give it an extra point for some genuinely funny moments, but if you’re going to see this movie, it helps if you haven’t been thru puberty. 5/10


Dr. Tom

(Remove the spam-sniffing leading X's to talk back at me)

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