Please join me in welcoming back gust reviewer Savanna New! Savanna is the co-producer of The Hunger Games Fireside Chat and is also an associate editor at Picktainment.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets just can’t seem to catch a break! As I mentioned yesterday in my review of the book, when forced to choose, most fans usually describe Chamber of Secretsas being their least favorite book in the Harry Potter series (at least, that’s been my experience). It’s an astonishing work of literary genius, to be sure, but just doesn’t stand out as much among its brethren. The movie adaptation, which I will be looking at today, constantly receives a lot of flak as well. Last year, one of my co-associate editors at Picktainment, Adam Spunberg, surveyed hardcore fans, along with a few Picktainment staff members, and asked us all to rank the first seven Harry Potter films. How did Chamber of Secrets fare? Adam wrote, “Sporting just 2% of the first-place votes and 69% of the bottom half, Secrets ought to just take some gillyweed and sulk among the Merpeople.” Ouch!
So, what is it about the film that draws such a muddy reception? You would think the things that make the book less attractive to readers – a slightly formulaic plot structure that’s “too” similar to Sorcerer’s Stone and a lack of the powerful and intricately woven storylines that characterize Rowling’s subsequent works would fade away behind the veneer of movie magic. And they do, to an extent. The movie has its own set of problems, which I’ll lay out below; fortunately, though, there are also a lot of really wonderful aspects to this film, which should definitely not go unrecognized.
- Richard Harris is absolutely moving in his final turn as Dumbledore, delivering his lines with the sort of wise gentleness and winking spirit that make the headmaster such a lovable character in the books. My opinion may be an unpopular one, but I’ll probably always prefer Harris’s Dumbledore to Michael Gambon’s. I like my Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye, not a harsh snarl on their lips.
- Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy? Yes, please!
- The design and voicing of Dobby could have gone very, very wrong. Thankfully for all of us, it didn’t.
- Chamber of Secrets, the movie, follows the book almost too closely, if such a thing is possible (and I hate to say that it is, considering how much I disliked the “liberties” that Alfonso Cuarón took when directing Prisoner of Azkaban). A lot of unnecessary shots and scenes are present, but as a fan it’s truly incredible to see things like the Burrow, floo powder, Howlers, the flying Ford Anglia, Polyjuice Potion, and mandrakes brought to life. And I relish the Quidditch scenes, given that those subplots basically disappear from the later films.
- Two words: Kenneth Branagh. This movie is worth re-watching just for his hilarious performance as new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and wizarding world celebrity, Gilderoy Lockhart.
- When in doubt, blame the director. I think that Chris Columbus – who also directed Sorcerer’s Stone – is the main reason why many fans don’t seem to care for Chamber of Secrets as much as the other Harry Potter films. His style is just to cutesy, clean, and sparkly for some. Both Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets have always felt a bit like children’s holiday movies to me, and the tone that they evoke is not representative of the series at all.
- Many of the scary scenes just aren’t scary enough. The moments featuring Harry alone in the dark corridors of Hogwarts are really well-done – and appropriately creepy – but whenever Ron and Hermione are around, the mood tends to lighten unnecessarily. Add a dose of ill-placed, jaunty music, and it’s the Scooby-Doo Gang resurrected.
- I love Shirley Henderson, but I will never understand why they cast a woman in her late 30s to play Moaning Myrtle, who died while she was a student at Hogwarts. Ghosts don’t age, last time I checked.
Maybe it’s because I’m starting to already get a bit weepy at the thought of “it all ending” on July 15, but as I watched The Chamber of Secrets for the umpteenth time in preparation for this review, I found myself treasuring and savoring each moment with a fondness and nostalgia that I’ve never really felt before. Chamber of Secrets will never be my favorite Harry Potter film (or book), yes, and it certainly has its flaws, but it’s one-eighth of the unforgettable journey that we’ve been a part of for the last ten years and will always have a firmly rooted place in my heart.
4 out of 5 StarsHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) Warner Brothers G, 161 Minutes