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2002, dir. Chris Columbus
161 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Danielle Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Griffiths.

Review by Noel Wood

Thank God for Harry Potter. Thanks to him, I have at least two more Novembers to look forward to. Seriously. I liked the hell out of the first Harry Potter movie when I saw it last Thanksgiving, and yesterday I pedaled my bicycle a mile and a half in 30 degree weather just to go see the sequel. And I liked it even better than the original.


Meta time for the site here: Sorry I haven't updated in a while, I haven't seen anything. There. I said it. Now deal. Actually, I've been minus powered transportation for the most part for the last few weeks, so it's not as easy to get from point A to point B. So the video store and the theater are within walking distance, but I really gotta have motivation to get there. Yesterday, I needed some groceries, so I did the whole three birds-one stone thing and knocked out seeing HARRY POTTER, picking up some victuals, and picking up THE SECRET LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS at the local Bl*ckb*st*r (sorry, it's the only thing that's close). I was stupid and rented the only 2-day rental I was interested in so I have to watch it tonight and huff it back to the video shop or pay the price of the old late fee. But enough about that. I just advise you not to ride a bike for a mile uphill in freezing weather with 20 pounds of groceries strapped to your back. Just don't do it.

Oh, and I still need to review my FEMALIEN DVD. But I feel dirty even just mentioning that in a review for a kids' movie.


Speaking of which, I was kind of worried about the kid factor in the theater where I saw this. Fortunately, I saw the original movie late on a Saturday night, so the kid factor was minimal, but this time I went to a matinee on a Sunday. There were tons of kids. They, however, weren't the ones that made me want to pull my hair out. It was the adults. Kids don't know better, but if I had to hear the thirtysomething guy behind me point out the obvious one more time and continue chatting with his wife as if they were in their own living room, I was going to snap and take hostages.

So, Harry Potter it is. The Chamber of Secrets is the second Potter novel from author J.K. Rowling, who should be applauded for teaching kids that there is more to life than their PS2s and Power Rangers. And of course, it's the second film in the series. And it's really good. It's one of those cases, like THE GODFATHER PART II or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, where a sequel is better than the original. Returning is the charm and magic of the first film, but there's lots of improvement, including a darker, scarier feel, and a lot cleaner CGI.


The original Potter film gave us a nice introduction to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson). It's best if you've seen the first film (or read the first book or whatever, but this is MOVIE Criticism for the Retarded, so I'll stick to movie stuff) to know the main and secondary characters. In this one, though, we're introduced to a couple of new characters, including Kenneth Branaugh in a turn as Gilderoy Lochkart, a charlatain magician and author. We also meet Potter foe Draco Malfoy's father Lucius, as well as the animated "house elf" Dobby, who unfortunately is a bit like the Jar Jar Binks of the Harry Potter universe but fortunately only has a few moments of screen time.

Harry has again been locked up by his gluttonous Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, although this time he's able to have a bedroom rather than just being under the stairs. When the time comes to go back to Hogwart's, Ron and his brothers come by in a flying car and bust him out, although Dobby has warned him not to go. The trip back to Hogwart's is more difficult, as for some reason Ron and Harry aren't able to get through the portal to get to the proper train. They wind up arriving by the enchanted car, but not without some frightening experiences along the way. Already off to a bad start, Harry begins hearing strange voices that nobody else seems to be able to hear. A few "wrong place wrong time" moments later, and several people are convinced that Harry may be responsible for a rash of petrifications going around the school. Harry is determined to discover just who is behind opening up the Chamber of Secrets, and how it relates to all the bad mojo that seems to be going around.


THe plot here is a lot more polished than the first, and we really start to get a better feel for just who Harry Potter is. It's interesting to note that although he's a heralded prodigal wizard, Harry rarely uses his magical powers except when most necessary. He tends to rely on his brainpower and physical attributes, using magic as a backup, while his peers use their magical abilities at every opportunity. Of course, with the introductions out of the way, "Secrets" gets more of a chance to build a story and strengthen its characters. Not that the film's perfect, by any stretch. Dealing with a cast of primarily child actors means dealing with a share of less-polished acting chops, and some of it shows. And the feel-good ending seems like it was sort of tacked-on at the last minute.

Like I said, this movie is darker and scarier than the original. There were moments when I was in suspense, and I even jumped at a part or two. There's a giant spider creepout scene that makes EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS look tame by comparison. It's gotta be pretty scary for the younger set, who are the target audience of the movie. But as with the first one, this is enjoyable by all age groups. And the Quidditch sequence rules. It totally blows the previous one out of the water.


It's just sad to know that Richard Harris won't be appearing in the followups, filling the shoes of Professor Dumbledore. I've heard rumors of Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan filling the role in the next two films, and either one is fine with me.


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