A mild improvement over the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets is a faster paced film with many of the same problems of the first: bad scripting, a snubbing of supporting characters and an overpowering John Willams score. The production design continues to be first-rate, however, and the performances from the young actors has improved.
Harry is back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after a summer of misery at home with his fat bastard uncle. After sulking around for a few minutes, Harry is quickly broken out of his hellhole by a flying Ford Angilica. When Harry actually gets to school (he has some trouble this year) the action picks up quickly. The plot is revealed early on this time, and it is a whole lot darker. There might be a secret chamber inside Hogwarts, that might contain a monster, that might be responsible for “petrifying” (think of it as a statue-like coma) a representative ensemble of Hogwarts characters. It is up to Harry to find out who has opened the chamber, etc.
The movie seems to have a better flow than the last one–it is more of an action flick. The Quidditch match is more exciting, partly because Harry spends half the time avoiding the bludger from Hell. Chris Colombus tried to make the film “darker,” there are a bunch of giant spiders, a creepy hand thing that is in the movie for no reason, a whomping (whoopass) willow (that doesn’t even look like a willow), and a big scary monster that looks an over-size moray eel. There is one particular scene where a huge spider busts through a car window to grab a kid around the neck, trying to eat him or something. The book wasn’t this scary or intense. Leave the babies at home for this one, parents, nobody wants to hear their cryin’.
The script by Steven Kloves is just as shitty as the last one, the movie makers are too concerned with staying true Rowlings’ books than they are with interpreting the work. As I’ve said before, watching Harry Potter on screen is like watching Cliff Notes come to life–you get the gist of the story, but something is lost in the translation. The script was also full of clichés. It was as if all of the characters except Harry were put into the cliché caricature generator. Ron is not as brave as Harry; we know this because his face is always in a frightened contortion and because everything he says is in a squeaky, stuttering voice. All of the Dursley’s lines are clunky and awkward in the same way. Furthermore, all of the lines were really predictable, even if the viewer had never been exposed to the book. At the end, it is supposed to be a surprise that Dumbledore awards Harry and company for their efforts; after all, they did break a few rules in the process of saving the world once again. And gosh, I really expected Dumbledore, who had already helped Harry out dozens of times in the course of the movie, to erupt and throw three months of detention at them.
The young actors seem more comfortable this time around in their roles, they deliver their lines well. The actors are also noticeably older; they are taller and have deeper voices (especially Hermione).
The effects seem to be better integrated this time, the monsters aren’t cartoonish looking, and the Quidditch match is smoother. There is an extended scene with a flying car that has some choppy parts to it, but it isn’t a big distraction.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a marginal improvement over the first movie, but has many of the same problems. Check high expectations at the door and you should come out entertained.