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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (DVD)
Member Name: Suzela
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (DVD)
Advantages: better than the first film and enjoyable
Disadvantages: it could have been much better
In the run up to the release of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix DVD next month I have decided to review the previous films in the series. So this is number two in my series of reviews - Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (2002).
As I sat waiting for the second instalment of the Harry Potter film franchise to start, I kept thinking "Please be better than the first film" (I have a feeling my husband was thinking this too!). Yes I had enjoyed the first film but I was disappointed by so many aspects of it. I just wanted this film to be an improvement but I wasn't that hopeful especially as the same director, Chris Columbus, and team involved in the first film took the reins and in reality this was my least favourite of the books. In this film we see Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts for their second year where another plot is brewing to bring the evil lord Voldemort back to his former power. But this plot not only endangers Harry but all the pupils at Hogwarts.
However on this occasion my apprehension thankfully was slightly less justified as I shall explain.
From the very opening of the film you know this film is going down a darker path. The familiar orchestrated theme returns but in a more grandiose way and in a different more ominous key slipping in and out of the major and minor. In fact the whole of John Williams' score was darker and more menacing in parts and again provided the wonderful supporting role that it did in the first film. Everything seems to have been shot with an autumnal feel and a slightly golden tinge to the screen. The first film was all new and exciting and had a brighter feel about it (well it was supposed to be) and so this was a progression - I had a little reason to hope. And another pleasing thing was that you felt like you got straight into the story rather than having however long to gain background before the "action" started. Yes you found out more about the characters and Harry begins to find out more about himself and his abilities - yes you get to tie up a few loose ends (and create some new ones) but the story thread started quickly and flowed throughout the film. It was less a collection of scenes and therefore had a bit of pace to it. It still suffers from heavy lines of exposition given extra weight by a less than fabulous script but there were definite signs of improvement.
One thing that does make this film stand out from its predecessor is the use of a key theme which is embraced fully and helps to add to the darkening feel of the film. In fairness it had to as it is so integral to the story (and indeed the rest of the series) but there was a danger it could have been dumbed down in such a blockbuster movie because it is quite a sensitive subject and that subject is of discrimination. Although touched on in The Philosopher's Stone, it is much more prominent in this film. It deals with discrimination on low levels with Uncle Vernon calling Harry's friends freaky and the wealthy Malfoys sneering at the Weasleys for being poor, through to the issue of blood status which takes on a more sinister feel reminiscent of Hitler's Aryan ideals or South Africa's apartheid. Simply put in this magical world some of the elitist and older "pure-blood" families detest anything muggle. Half-bloods (a child born to a witch/wizard and muggle - like Harry) were "tolerated" and yet muggle-born (also known as mud-bloods - like Hermione) were considered inferior as they possessed the ability to be part of the magical world but not the perceived right. Even pure-bloods consorting with muggles (like the Weasleys - Ron's family) were looked down upon.
The subject of the discrimination isn't real but the actual extreme the discrimination is portrayed as - wishing harm on "mud-bloods" and looking down on muggles is quite heavy for a children's film. I am looking at this from an adult's perspective and being in the realms of fantasy has allowed this quite hard-hitting subject to be dealt with in quite a sensitive way. For younger kids it just seems that there are some really nasty people around - it's just more thought provoking for older children and adults.
This film also has a greater sense of peril than the first one for our trio with some quite scary scenarios (which younger children may find too scary) for all of them. The creatures and dangers they face are much darker and more dangerous (arachnophobics beware!) but in some respects their biggest dangers are more subtle. The issue of trust and people not being who or what they claim/seem to be and how they can manipulate situations to get people to either do or believe what they want is handled here with the introduction of new characters - the famous celebrity wizard, heart-throb and new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart and the rather nasty Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father and "ex" member of Voldemort's inner circle - at best a "racist" given his position as one of the elitist pure-blood families and at worst still an active follower of You-know-who! We also see the mysterious Tom Riddle and more from Ginny Weasley, Ron's little sister. Another addition is the CGI character of Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones) - is he to Harry Potter what Jar-Jar Binks was to The Phantom Menace? Thankfully not but he certainly is no Gollum but is quite "likeable" nonetheless!
Speaking of CGI and special effects, this film had to rely more on them than the last and overall it was quite disappointing. Dobby was not as "there" as he could have been - he wasn't like Gollum who although fantastical had that realistic quality of movement and being a fully functioning part as an "actor as he was too animated. And all the other CGI creatures just could have looked so much better. The actual special effects used for the ghosts in the film is actually quite good taking the actors themselves and making them see-through and due to the story this is employed quite a lot. It is just a shame that where CGI was used heavily it made the scenes feel too cartoon like and therefore unsatisfying. However, despite the best attempts of the script writers to make the rest of the film cartoon like, the strength of the cast again shone through to make it far from it.
Once again the adult cast were superb. Two notable additions this time round were Kenneth Brannagh as Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. Both gave wonderful performances given the material they had to work with and yet I did feel that although Brannagh brought a real finesse to Lockhart he was a little miscast as the heart throb. If I was given a choice between Lockhart and Lucius Malfoy, it would be Lucius everytime! Isaacs really brings a sense of slyness and evil to his character. All smiles and well bred politeness on the surface but underneath is something far darker and more dangerous. Other new additions such as Mark Williams and Julie Walters (although she had a small part in the first film) as Mr and Mrs Weasley, and Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge only have small parts but you feel there is more to come from them in the next films. Also of note are two ghostly and "other worldly" characters - Moaning Myrtle, the ghost of a pupil played by Shirley Henderson and Tom Riddle, the memory of a past pupil played by Christian Coulson. Interestingly Henderson was in her 30s when she took this role and yet is completely believable as the misty eyed, sensitive and petulant ghost with a soft spot for Harry. The big let down was Coulson. This was supposed to be his first acting role and being older you would have expected more but frankly, given his role in the story, he was quite disappointing.
The returning actors such as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and David Bradley turn out great supporting roles again but there was less of a need to provide crutches for the kids which was refreshing. It should be noted though (and with sadness) that this was the last film that Richard Harris appeared in before his death in 2002. He looked frail in the film and yet delivered a more "Dumbledore" like performance as he seemed to add a little more complexity to the character.
So was there any improvement from the kids? Well yes actually. At this point they are still young but they seem much more relaxed in this film. Where they seem to stumble is on green screen scenes (although in fairness Daniel Radcliffe seemed much more comfortable with this towards the end of the film) and where frankly the script and the scenes made them seem far too prim and proper. Because they were that bit older and the boys' voices were that bit lower the cute running around in cloaks and school uniform or jumpers and slacks/skirts had lost its believability really. Their actual personalities seemed to want to come through more but were a bit stiffled. Daniel Radcliffe seems to be growing into Harry more and even Emma Watson was much improved on her last outing as Hermione Granger. The one who struggled this time was Rupert Grint. It just seemed that his role had turned into a dim-witted slapstick role and he really didn't seem comfortable with this. Anyone who has read any of the Barry Trotter parody books will recognise Ron's character more from that than the actual Harry Potter books in this film. The other younger actors' performances are pretty much more of the same from the first film (quite awkward and disappointing) with the best of them again being Tom Felton and Matthew Lewis but you also have Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley who puts in quite a solid performance in quite a small but vital role.
Overall this film was much more adept than the first one but mainly because it was more of a story as a whole. Again there are plot alterations and missing sections as always occurs with adaptations but as with the first film this wasn't the problem. We get 161 minutes of film but it still lacked the ingenuity in portraying the spirit of the book. It set out its stall to be darker and anything which could have brought the smile to your face had a ton of bad dialogue heaped on it or it just didn't work. The sets, costumes and locations are fantastic in creating this quasi Dickensian style magical world but this just isn't enough to bring the whole spirit of the book to life. Without that spirit again you just get a good v evil mystery adventure film without any real style.
However, I still ended up enjoying this film despite all its flaws. It is darker and more mysterious, there is suspense and a sense of danger and I actually started to feel that I was engaging more with the child actors, without whom we wouldn't have a film. I could have done without the last scene of the film or at least I wouldn't have made it so that I wanted to reach for a bucket as it was far too sickly. In fact when I watch it on DVD I skip the scene and go straight to the wonderful music of the credits. It is rated PG for some scary moments, "creature violence" and mild language but I would still recommend this film to anyone - big and little kid alike.
Summary: There's something nasty going on at Hogwarts!