Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Less Hype, More Wizardry
By Patrick Reed

This kid’s career is done once puberty hits.

Compared to a year ago this time, when the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone commanded colossal coverage in nearly every media outlet, there has been a noticeable softening of the anticipatory marketing blitz for the second installment. Perhaps Warner Brothers deduced that nearly everyone who saw the first movie has been hooked into an enduring relationship with the series, an outlook that's also presumably held by the Lord of the Rings moguls as their second film draws near.

Problem is, a palpable sense of dissatisfaction grew among Potter-ites after Stone's premiere; Chris Columbus' film wasn't a ghastly corruption of author J.K. Rowling's vision, just boring in spots and overall too clinical an introduction into what was heralded to be a truly magical world. Flowing from fifth-grade classrooms to Internet chatrooms, the complaints apparently had an effect on the Potter producers as they worked on the second-book follow-up (somewhat akin to the nerd brigade's protests directed at George Lucas after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace). Thus, the pre-release marketing has seemed less immense this time 'round, and less slavishly directed toward children. As for the film itself, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets improves on several of its predecessor's flaws even as others remain.

Most of the contributors are back that made the first Potter one of the all-time box office champs: director Columbus, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and all of the principal cast. The plot follows closely with Rowling's book, and one of the main pluses with Chamber is that there is little time spent on character introduction and setting; we already know that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is a wizard prodigy, gifted from infancy, who's neglected and feared by his "muggle" relatives in the real world, but the most popular student on the Hogwarts castle-campus. This allows Columbus and Kloves to dive directly into the action and storyline.

Chamber begins back in Harry's uncle's home, where sequestered in his room, Harry is visited by a (computer-generated) house elf named Dobby, who warns Harry not to go back to Hogwarts in the fall-if he does, everyone's lives will be in danger. Harry soon escapes from his hateful family with his best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and eventually travels to Hogwarts via flying automobile. Once there, reunited with his cohorts in the house of Gryffindor, everything seems settled for Harry: games of Quidditch, advanced instruction, and palling around with Weasley and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). It isn't long, however, before Harry begins to hear a serpentine voice in his head, one only he can converse with (because he speaketh the "parseltongue," of course). The voice leads him to discover the Hogwarts housecat's petrified body, along with a message scrawled in blood: "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened."

According to Professors Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith), the Chamber is a long-dormant, hidden section of the Hogwarts castle that contains a monster of unspeakable powers: or rather, unviewable ones, for anyone who stares directly into its eyes perishes. Naturally, it's up to Harry and his friends locate the Chamber before the monster can fully unleash its destructive force, and their investigative efforts meet up with numerous obstacles. Many at Hogwarts suspect that Harry himself is behind the opening of the Chamber, and as more students literally become petrified by the mysterious evil from within, word begins to spread that the school may have to close.

So, that's the basic set-up for what turns into an overlong succession of mini-conflicts that pit Harry and his friends against various ghosts, creatures, evil spirits, and so on. Like the first movie-and perhaps this criticism should be directed more at Rowling than the filmmakers-there often seems to be little overriding theme or reasoning behind the various situations Harry encounters; it's just the same "problem-peril-solution" sequence repeated over and over. This may be captivating to young minds, but it's more than a little repetitive to the out-of-the-loop moviegoer, and Chamber could easily cut 45 minutes of running time with no concurrent loss in suspense.

On the other hand, the special effects are noticeably improved in Chamber, the child actors all seem more comfortable in their characters (especially Radcliffe), and the adults on hand, from Groundskeeper Hagrid (the great Robbie Coltrane) to Richard Harris in his final role, invest their performances with more emotion and gravity than before. Hey, let's face it, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is necessary, tag-along viewing for anyone who has relatives of a certain age, so resistance is pointless. Fortunately, the people behind the Potter franchise have secured their core audience of young fantasy fanatics, and with a darker, more violent, and better sequel, it appears that they are reaching out ever-so-slightly to the old, jaded, muggle demographic this time