Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kenneth Brannagh, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Rated: PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language.
Parental Notes: There are several scenes which may be too intense for young children, including one which involves hundreds of giant spiders. However, children who are fans of the books will no doubt be thrilled.
Fans of the Harry Potter series have been anxiously awaiting the second installment in the series of film adaptations of the popular books for an entire year. Some will probably be disappointed, but for those who just want to see the major scenes of the book up on the big screen, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will no doubt be a thrilling ride.
The story follows the same formula as last year’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) escapes from his horrible aunt and uncle, goes to school, has to deal with a difficult professor, and faces down a horrible villain.
This time, however, Harry is warned that he must not return to school by a house elf named Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones). When he refuses to promise not to go back, the creature gets him into trouble with his aunt and uncle, and Harry is locked up in his room. Luckily, his best friend comes to the rescue in a flying car and Harry is whisked away to the wizarding world once again.
Things at school are worse than ever. Not only must Harry contend with the arrogant pretty boy of wizardry, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Brannagh), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, but someone is writing messages in blood on the walls and a monster is loose in the school – a monster that leaves all who see it literally petrified.
The film has several strong points, starting with the effects. The film’s Quidditch match (sort of like a cross between rugby and basketball, played on flying broomsticks) is far superior to the ones in the first film, and includes a thrilling race between Harry and his schoolyard nemesis. Dobby, an entirely computer generated creature, is quite well done, and not nearly as annoying as he could have been. Indeed, he manages to escape the Jar-Jar Binks end of things, mostly by being fairly intelligent and not overused.
There are several thoroughly exciting action sequences, and while they may be too frightening for young children, older kids will no doubt find them thrilling. Children with a fear of spiders may wish to stay away; one of the sequences involves hundreds of gigantic spiders chasing after our heroes.
Where the film suffers, however, is in its pacing. In their attempt to include everything and satisfy as many detail-oriented children as possible, the writers have created a rushed collection of every climactic scene in the book. Harry and his friends rush from crisis to crisis with no chance to build character or even catch their breath.
Worse, the delightful secondary characters, from Alan Rickman’s deliciously nasty Professor Snape to John Cleese’s Nearly Headless Nick, are reduced to filling in the background while Harry and company rush through to save the day. An entire subplot around Nearly Headless Nick is completely gone, sacrificed in favor of the main plotline. The late Richard Harris, in his final role as Headmaster Dumbledore, is excellent but also underused.
If you’re looking for a thrilling ride of non-stop excitement, the pleasure of seeing Harry Potter and company on the big screen again, or for some great special effects and gorgeous architecture, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is for you. Those in search of character development, thoughtful pacing, or a film where the excellent cast’s craft can be appreciated would be better served elsewhere.