Review: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

With all the fuss of casting, faithfulness, and public pressure out of the way the filmmakers have gotten on with the job of adapting the second book in JK Rowling’s modern classic novel series with a better sense of confidence. The result is a markedly improved screen adventure in practically every aspect.

Lets face it, the first “Harry Potter” movie was one of the most loyal adaptations there has been of a book into a movie ever and combined with Chris Columbus’ rather soft directing it became a solid and delightful adventure but somewhat empty and creaky as they remained so faithful to the text they forgot the vision of the story. ‘Chamber’ however has much more energy, pacing, action and professionalism to it which, despite its ten minute longer runtime, flies by much faster than the first movie.

With much of the exposition and introductions out of the way in the first novel, the second book got on with the action and is in fact my favourite of the novels so far due to its simple mystery and darkly visceral aspects of humour, suspense and horror. Its the most streamlined and dare I say ‘english’ of the novels as things turn more American action movie-ish in the third (with time travel/serial killer elements) and fourth (various quests).

Like all novels in this series it combines classic storytelling methods, mythical elements, wry observations, imaginative settings and most importantly of all – very memorable and distinctive characters to create a world both rich and vast. ‘Chamber’ adds to this in many ways with views of the magical wizarding world outside the grounds of Hogwarts including the Weasley’s quite spectacular home, the recesses of the Dark Forest, and the involvement of such things as the Ministry of Magic.

Performances have also shown a big improvement on ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. Daniel Radcliffe’s delivery of many of his lines in the first film were done with a lot of apprehension and unsuredness but here he shows a vast improvement and is way more convincing in many ways including the almost Bruce Willis-esque ending sequence.

Rupert Grint is adorable comic relief as Ron and whilst her role is smaller this time around, Emma Watson shines yet again as Hermione. Tom Felton, who looks to have shot right up over the production break (in fact they all have) delivers a better and less overdone turn as Draco Malfoy, whilst Richard Harris’ Dumbledore gets loads of screen time this time around and the late legend just owns the role.

Robbie Coltrane gets less of a turn as Hagrid though again is perfectly fitted for the role, whilst Smith and Rickman are criminally underused as McGonagall and Snape with seemingly half the scenes they had in the first movie. Thankfully Snape plays a big part in Film #3 so I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing Rickman finally get to flesh out the role more.

Several newcomers join the cast in big roles here. Kenneth Branagh is hilarious as the publicity seeking Gilderoy Lockhart – from his smug interchanges with his own book and artwork portraits, to his philosophy on fame – it’s a very one-dimensional role but Branagh plays it to a tea and hams it up without ever going too far overboard.

Jason Isaacs looks to be having great fun in the almost ‘Nazi superior race’ role model (with the flowing blond hair, black cape and sparkling eyes) that is Lucius Malfoy. As a somewhat nasty orchestrator of things, Lucius makes a great foil for our heroes and I can’t wait to see him in future episodes as Isaacs is not just excellent (not anywhere up there with the scenery chewing of his part in “The Patriot” but the best thing he’s done since that film), but the character itself has many possibilities.

Shirley Henderson overdoes it somewhat as the hyper sensitive ghost Moaning Myrtle but she’s fun, Bonnie Wright and Hugh Mitchell do quite well with their small screentime as Ginny and Colin, whilst Mark Williams has some great lines as Ron’s father Arthur and Christian Coulson pulls off the difficult Tom Riddle role well. In fact the only disappointing newcomer is the CG creation Dobby who is thankfully not anywhere near Jar Jar Binks level, but the self-fladulation act does get old quick.

Story wise things are certainly darker this time around, but consequently it’ll have a far broader appeal. Most of the trimming from the book seems to have taken place in the Weasley house segments, whilst action is heavily oomphed up with a great dueling scene and a more exciting Quidditch match even if it happens with little fanfare and is over relatively quickly.

A sequence involving giant spiders is astonishingly vicious, more so than some of the scenes in the woeful “Eight Legged Freaks”, the ending is quite spectacular albeit a little silly, the mystery aspect unfolds at a welcome pace and most of all there’s a tighter sense to things even if they flow more naturally than they did before.

Production values are again superb with great costumes, locations, cinematography, and thank god for the money – MUCH improved visual FX. CG creations seemed quite cartoony in the first film but are much smoother and more realistic here.

The comedy has its moments and in all Hogwarts seems a more adult and unusual place than its light and magical sense during our initial visit. Columbus is still a little too faithful and like it or not the film still runs for too long whilst sequences which could’ve run better are a little stifled. Nevertheless these are very minor complaints which most won’t care about. A rich and rewarding family entertainment experience that teens and adults will thoroughly enjoy more – as will the kids.