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Pottering About (Again)

01/12/2002. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Harry Potter in the USA - or Buy Harry Potter in the UK

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Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts School for his sophomore year and finds a new mystery involving a missing secret room at the school and a struggle between purebred wizards and those who are interbred. This is not a perfect film, and it does drag in spots, but it is consistently inventive and rewarding.

Harry Potter film is out and the question is, is there enough new and exciting to make up for the fact that a lot of this strange world already will be familiar to most of the audience from the first film?

For me that question may be too close to call. But Harry Potter remains a children's film made so well that all ages can appreciate it. Compare that to LORD OF THE RINGS, the other current popular annual franchise, which is a film for all ages that children can appreciate.

The continued format of the boy wizard opens many possibilities for story-telling. But the same as last year--and probably same as always with Rowling--the story is really an English Public School story, with its standard coming of age and overcoming bullies theme, crossed with a boy-detective mystery.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets movie review

Harry's powers of wizardry are really secondary his powers of logical deduction. That is probably a good thing because powers of logic are understood by the viewer while powers of magic are much less so.

As the film opens Harry is a little morose. He is back at home with his aunt and uncle who treat him as an awkward and unwanted stepchild, which is basically what he is in this world. To make matters worse, none of his friends have written to him all summer long.

But buck up, Harry. Summer is over and it is time to take the train (from the invisible platform, of course) and head back to Hogwarts for another year of exciting education, learning useful skills like turning rats into crystal goblets.

It turns out there was more than meets the eye in last year's choosing to what house at the college each wizard is assigned. Slithern was all purebred witches and wizards and they feel racially superior to Harry and his friends. And there is a new mystery--something about a room that was sealed up back when the original Wizard Slithern helped found the school. Old Hogwarts seems more sinister this year than it did last year.

If like in the old Jim Stafford song you "don't like spiders and snakes" this could be a bad year for you at Hogwarts. Even the usual friendly (?) game of quiddich takes on a dangerous and nasty feel almost as bad as English Rugby.

And of course we have Harry getting into trouble with the teachers who seem a tad ungrateful to the boy who saved Hogwarts and perhaps the world last year. But then Hogwarts is a bit darker this year. The sun seems to rise only to allow the occasional game of quiddich.

There are some new characters this year. Kenneth Branagh plays Gilderoy Lockhart, a sensationalist celebrity wizard who is coming to teach at Hogwarts when he finishes promoting his new book. Then there is Dobby the House Elf. For this new character the filmmakers seem to have managed what George Lucas could not do.

They have created a fully digital character that does not set the viewers' teeth on edge. It is Dobby who direly warns Harry against returning to Hogwarts. Somehow the script mentions only one freshman entering Hogwarts for the first time, oddly enough. She does not get nearly the fuss that the freshmen got last year, sad to say.

Daniel Radcliffe does a decent job of portraying Potter, aged just about the right amount since last year thanks not to digital effects but to plain old-fashioned nature. Radcliffe just happens to be a year older as is Potter. The teaching staff is played by much the same set of substantial but underused actors. These are one-time major lead actors cast in small supporting roles well beneath their talents.

Little more than scenery are Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman. Only a little more important is the late Richard Harris in his final screen role. He has already replaced for the next film as the annual release schedule does not leave much time for delay.

Most dispensable of the repeated roles is John Cleese as a nearly headless ghost. The time spent reminding the audience just who he is seems wasted since he still does not participate in the story and is only a piece of scenery. One problem with a series that releases for the holiday season each year is that there is a little too much that is Father-Christmassy in this world each year.

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets sadly fails to expand much on the world created by the first film. It is a well-crafted mystery film set in a little too precisely the same world as the first film.

I would have liked it to deliver more that was new and intriguing, but it is not substantially worse than the previous film and I am willing to be happy with that. I rate Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. Two notes: It is nice to have the same title in America and in Britain. Also, be aware that if you sit quietly to the end of the credits the filmmakers give you a little reward.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper

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