Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
November 15th, 2002
Harry Potter returns and the Force is with him! Oh wait, that's a galaxy far, far away, not a British school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter returns and he has found the One Ring! No, damn, that's not right either. Which over-hyped multi-million dollar, drone-creating franchise film did I just see?
Oh yes, it was "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." If only all franchise films were as good as this one (Are you reading this, Rich Berman and the producers of "Star Trek?"). (mary's note: I would italicize that parenthetical phrase, but it's just me)
First off, I ache a little bit because this is one long movie. I guess director Chris Columbus and the producers figured a longer running time is fine if it tells a more complete story ("Lord of the Rings"). Good for them. American audiences don't always need just a 90 minute movie. We do have longer attention spans if something is worthy. Columbus deserves to be congratulated for sticking it out. For a fantastic interview that Facer did with Columbus go here. (mary's note: this plug is out of place. Maybe imbed it into the "Columbus" in the line just below?)
I cannot believe this is the same man (Columbus) who directed "Nine Months." Heck, I can't even believe this is the same man who directed the last "Harry Potter." That movie was often boring and misguided. "The Chamber of Secrets" has a whole different feel to it, and Columbus really owns the day. The way he used his camera I felt like David Fincher was at the helm. It's a real shame Columbus won't be directing the 3rd Potter; he's got the command of it now.
"Chamber" held my attention throughout it's over two and a half hour running time. The first one couldn't do that; the characters just felt off, and the story seemed to skip from beat to beat like a pebble skipping over water. "Chamber" avoids all that, probably because we are already familiar with Ron, Harry, Hagrid and the whole bunch, so Columbus doesn't have to waste much time on them. Instead he gets down to the heart of the story -- which is a wonderful puzzle of suspicious characters, dark pasts and terrible events that demand answering. All of this is executed with sheer brilliance.
The movie reminds me of "The Sopranos" in the way each little story line pays off. We are never allowed to forget the smallest detail, like the qualities of a Phoenix's tears or a glance of an eye across a crowded bookstore. Everything is important here, and everything is referenced back onto itself so that, we, the audience, enjoy the puzzle and take a part in its unveiling. This quality is a tribute to Potter author J.K. Rowling.
Rowling's novels are really moderate at best. They are not by a stretch original or special, but they did something for the fantasy genre that, in the best comparison I can think of, Jackie Chan did for Kung Fu.
What do I mean? Well, Chan has made Kung Fu movies accessible by bringing a quality to them that they didn't always possess: humor. The same goes for Rowling and the fantasy genre. By adding humor to the mix she is able to (like Chan) widen the audience and allow all people to identify with it. They also black-and-white the story with clear-cut good guys and bad guys, which makes it easier to understand so that still more people can become fans. Add in some of the genres most loved generalities, executed nicely, and you have a sure fire hit. Rowling does a nice touch, as I said before, by allowing great payoffs for audience attention to detail (and boy, do audiences love that). Anyway, this review is suppose to be about that movie in which Daniel Radcliffe is a star.
He really owns Harry now (You've heard that before, and you will more after this film). He delivers his lines crisply and with the air of seasoned pro. Though he has grown a lot in the last year, such a transformation befits his character, who is growing more sure of himself. Emma Watson as Hermione impressed me the most. She's really beginning to look like a woman. Look at that jaw line and her brow and you can watch her growing up right in front of your eyes. At times, in the first Potter she was pompous and overzealous, but here she's much better tuned as the know-it-all, loyal to the end friend. Kenneth Branagh got the most laughs. He fits the Gilderoy Lockhart role well, and it's almost a shame his comic relief won't be around again. There is little room for laughter, though, in the film's dark and wonderful conclusion.
Where in the first film there was a lot of flame and fire to conclude the movie, "Chamber" has a perfect conclusion between Harry and Tom Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort). Their exchange of words at the film's end is marvelous and pulled off with precise acting and nice editing. Things then get really frightening really fast -- young ones in the theater will be screaming in fright. But I'm telling you, it's such a pleasure to have great dialogue and well timed, well executed action sequences in a film's pay-off (Michael Bay, are you reading this?).
On the whole, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" was a delight for me to behold. I am not a big fan of the first film or of the four novels, but this film made me want to like the whole franchise and everything associated with it. If only Agent 007 was always such a delightful wizard...err...no, that's next week's franchise. Got to sort these things out.
My rating: A