Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner11/11/2002

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 160 mins

Reliable second instalment that gives you exactly what you expect, but somehow lacks that certain…well…magic.

Blimey. Is it November already? It doesn’t seem a year ago that Pottermania kicked off in earnest with the eagerly awaited release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and yet here we are with the new instalment.

The criticisms are pretty much the same this time round – it’s still too bloody long, it’s still too devoted to serving up all the best bits of the novel, the kids are still lousy actors (though marginally less so) and it still – somehow - isn’t quite the film it should have been. That said, it’s enjoyable enough, largely thanks to the presence of Kenneth Branagh.

Racial Purity Shenanigans

After a tedious opening involving the book’s most irritating character, Dobby the House Elf (an immaculately rendered CGI creation, the Potter franchise’s very own Jar-Jar Binks), and some hi-jinks with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and a flying car, the plot kicks off when it’s revealed that Something Nasty is lurking within the bowels of Hogwarts.

To make matters worse, this Evil Thing is preying on “Mudbloods” – i.e. those who were not born of ‘pure’ wizard blood – thereby introducing the uncomfortable theme of racial purity, which adds a much darker tone to the film.

Unfortunately for Harry, he has a worrying propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (standing over a freshly-discovered victim, for example), and it’s not long before suspicion begins to fall on him, particularly when it’s revealed that he can speak “parseltongue” (snake language) – a sure sign of evil.

Effects-Heavy Set Pieces

As expected, the effects are a vast improvement on the previous instalment and there are some excellent, effects-heavy set pieces, including: the ‘How To Catch A Mandrake’ lesson; an exciting Quidditch match complete with “rogue bludger”; and the Attack of the Giant Spiders, which has unfortunately had its thunder stolen by the recent Eight Legged Freaks (these spiders only run, they don’t jump).

The acting is something of a mixed bag. Radcliffe has marginally improved as Harry, largely because the script gives him a little more to do than just goggle at everything (though he still does way too much of this in the opening section).

Similarly, Watson has improved a little and handles her key scenes well, though at least she doesn’t have to contend with a breaking voice and burgeoning acne like her co-stars. Conversely, however, Grint –practically the star of the show in the first film - is reduced to mugging frantically and emerges as a much more irritating character this time round.

The adults, on the other hand, are perfectly cast, with Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman all doing splendid character work. They are joined by Miriam Margolyes and Jason Isaacs (impressively nasty as Lucius Malfoy), although the show is comprehensively stolen by both Shirley Henderson (as depressed ghost Moaning Myrtle) and Kenneth Branagh, who puts in a terrific comic performance as cowardly big-head Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defence Against The Dark Arts master.

Portents of Doom for Next Adaptation

The main set pieces of the book are all present and correct, including the Duel between Draco Malfoy and Harry, and the escapade with the Polyjuice potion. However, given that the length of the film will test the attention span of even the most devoted Potter fan, you may well find yourself wondering just which bits ought to have been cut out. At any rate, it doesn’t bode well for the next two books, both of which are significantly longer than Chamber of Secrets.

One area in which Chamber of Secrets improves upon the first film is in the climax, or half the climax, anyway. Unfortunately, many of the film’s faults lie with Rowling herself – for example, she’s entirely too reliant on the deus ex machina, and it’s a shame that Columbus didn’t have the freedom to tighten up the novel in that way.

To sum up, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a perfectly capable follow-up to the first film that benefits from a darker tone and Branagh’s hilarious performance. It’s also much scarier than its predecessor, something both arachnophobes and parents of Very Small Children should be aware of.

Not great, then, but worth seeing, and it will be interesting to see what impact the change of director (Alfonso Cuaron takes over from Columbus) has on the next instalment.

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Content updated: 24/10/2017 08:30

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