‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ (2002) — Snakes Alive, Harry, It’s the Basilisk!

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in the Chamber of Secrets (the guardian.com)
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in the Chamber of Secrets (the guardian.com)

Merrily, We Roll Along

In content and in style, director Chris Columbus’ sophomore installment of the continuing Harry Potter film series of children’s books, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), is basically a rehash of J.K. Rowling’s first novel, which is exactly as its author intended. Critic Leonard Maltin, in his annual Movie Guide review, rather amusingly describes the movie as “Second verse, pretty much the same as the first.” And I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of fact, this is probably the most dispensable entry in the entire series.

In this second movie adaptation of young Mr. Potter’s magical adventures at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Dickensian flavor and boarding-school ethic are kept virtually intact (a blessing in disguise), as well as the semi-dark tone of the original. The screenplay for this entry was written by Steve Kloves, who with the exception of the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), went on to author all of the Harry Potter movies — a protean effort no doubt, but one fraught with multiple hurdles.

Though far less suspenseful story-wise — the basic formula of the browbeaten and orphaned Harry Potter being defended by his peers against the derision of a plainly biased, upper-crust wizard society is starting to wear out its welcome — the film is worth watching for the wonderful repartee of new cast members (and seasoned professionals) Kenneth Branagh as the foppishly egotistical and flamboyant Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, and Jason Isaacs as the malevolently unctuous Lucius Malfoy.

Actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh ably portrays a pompous dunderhead who takes over the duties of imparting empty-headed “knowledge” to the students of his Defense against the Dark Arts class. He’s so smug and self-absorbed (and the actor may have been lampooning his own high-strung persona) that his energetic attempts at ineptitude throw a monkey wrench — and much-needed comic relief — into the faux forebodings of the plot. Notice his floundering attempts at setting things right, for example, when he tries to mend Harry’s broken arm. Anyone for Rubbermaid?

Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart (sharewallpapers.org)
Kenneth Branagh as pompous Prof. Gilderoy Lockhart (sharewallpapers.org)

While Jason Isaacs is hardly in this one at all, he steals every second of screen time: Isaacs brilliantly underplays his part to superb effect, a terrific casting coup. As Draco (Tom Felton) Malfoy’s pompously supercilious dad, Isaacs chills the bones with the dry and forthright delivery of his lines, every word oh-so-care-ful-ly chosen and del-i-ber-ate-ly enunciated. He appears in several of the remaining entries, but is lamentably underutilized throughout, a sad waste of precious talent. Evil like this needs to be exploited to its fullest!

Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy (www.pottermore.com)
Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy (www.pottermore.com)

Daniel Radcliffe, as the titular hero, has noticeably matured since his last outing, as has the aptly named Rupert Grint as best pal Ron; however, both have grown comfortably into their respective roles. We see their relationship mature before our eyes, which is gratifying from a visual standpoint. The sequence early on with the Weasley family’s flying roadster is as good an indication as any as to where this partnership is headed: it leads them on a collision course with Hogwart’s paranormal plant life, the notorious Whomping Willow. Emma Watson as Hermione Granger has far less to do this time around, but makes due of the reduced screen time quite nicely, thank you.

Also providing delicious star turns are the returning Richard Harris (who passed away just before the production’s release) as Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as the sad-eyed Professor McGonagall, Robbie Coltrane as the giant groundskeeper Hagrid, and Alan Rickman as the suspicious Professor Severus Snape.

Unfortunately, the actor who plays the villainous Tom Riddle (and who shall remain nameless, forsooth) is ineffectual, but blame the novel for that; his role is grievously underwritten. The voyeuristic Moaning Myrtle, who happens to haunt the second-floor girls’ lavatory, is played by Shirley Henderson in giggly little-girl fashion and is a novel addition to the roster of ghostly apparitions that make the series entertaining for one and all.

Some of the special effects are fine, if far from original, especially Dobby the house-elf, the enchanted flying car, a viciously fought Quidditch match, the fearsome basilisk (sort of a giant pit viper), and the nighttime spider attack (not at all as scary as it ought to be, and much too reminiscent of a far superior segment from Peter Jackson’s final Lord of the Rings: Return of the King feature). Errol, the Weasley’s scatterbrained owl, is definitely a hoot, though.

All in all, a good sophomore effort by director Chris Columbus, but the novelty is clearly wearing off, and it goes on for much too long.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Produced by David Heyman; directed by Chris Columbus; screenplay by Steve Kloves, from the novel by J. K. Rowling; cinematography by Roger Pratt; production design by Stuart Craig; costume design by Linda Hemming; edited by Peter Honess; music by John Williams; starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs, Mark Williams, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, and Toby Jones as the voice of Dobby. Color, 160 min. (174 min. in the extended cut). A Heyday Films 1492 Pictures release, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.  

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes

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