Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review


After Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one would think it was time for the Harry Potter series to dispense of introductions and the real childlike qualities that, while necessary, held the first film back a bit. I guess director Chris Columbus (back for some reason after the first film) didn’t get the memo. The second film in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is as amateurish as any major blockbuster in the last ten years. The actors take a step back. The dialogue is awkward and stilted. And Columbus still can’t get it through his head that the film doesn’t have to follow the book word for word. It’s pretty hard for me to dislike a Harry Potter film because I just love the stories so damn much, but Chamber of Secrets really puts that to the test.

After a thrilling and fulfilling first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is stuck back at home with the Dursleys, his cruel aunt, uncle, and cousin. But knowing there is a world out there where he is special and accepted is enough to get Harry through the long summer holiday, despite the fact that he hasn’t heard a word from his best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). One day, a strange creature named Dobby shows up in his bedroom. Dobby is a house-elf, and he’s here to warn Harry that terrible things will happen at Hogwarts this year and that he cannot go back. And strange things do happen. Harry and Ron are unable to make the train to school, so they fly the Weasley family car there (which leads to a run-in with a destructive tree). Their new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), is an egotistic moron. But strangest—and most dangerous—of all are the whispers Harry is hearing throughout the castle and the petrified bodies of his fellow students that show up shortly after. Who is the mysterious person opening the Chamber of Secrets and sicking its beast on the innocent kids of Hogwarts? Ask many of the folks at Hogwarts, and they’ll tell you it’s Harry. So our three heroes set off to clear his name and solve this century-old mystery once and for all.

The film, which has an solid enough plot and features some interesting racial overtones, is just very sloppily made, and I’m sorry, but Chris Columbus just isn’t a very good director. It’s obvious his vision is limited when he has to painstakingly follow every minute detail as laid out by J.K. Rowling. Sometimes, departing from an original is a good thing. Just ask Gus Van Sant.

It doesn’t help when the series’ main three actors all struggle with the material in a big way. They aren’t even really acting; they’re just reading words here. Daniel Radcliffe has mastered the quizzical stare, but not much else. Whenever one of his friends refers to something magical that he knows nothing about, he glances at them and repeats the word back. It feels so phony and becomes quite irritating. Rupert Grint can crack a joke, but anything requiring a modicum of emotion feels out of his depth. And Emma Watson never escapes the smarmy, know-it-all qualities in Hermione. All three improve to a certain degree as the series progresses, but it’s hard not to improve after this film.

Of course, the rest of the cast is aces. Kenneth Branagh is a welcome addition as the painfully self-centered Gilderoy Lockhart. Maggie Smith is a hoot as the stern but loving Professor McGonagall. And Richard Harris is a class act in his final turn as Dumbledore. The actor passed away just before the film’s release, and while the film might not be the best sendoff imaginable, his final moments onscreen are bittersweet and touching.

The weak link in the cast of characters is Dobby, who is nearly insufferable in his few scenes. The character is incredibly endearing on the page, but something went horribly wrong in his transfer to the big screen. Writer Steve Kloves makes numerous mistakes in his screenplay, but none is as bad or as painful to watch as Dobby.

But while I concede that this film is deeply flawed, I don’t hate it. It’s the worst of the Potter series by a mile, but it’s still a Harry Potter film, and no matter how bad it is at times, I love these characters too much to not somewhat enjoy watching Chamber of Secrets. I just want to kick Christopher Columbus, though, for making a Potter film this bad. For me, that’s inexcusable.

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