Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


It was good.  I liked it.

Main Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

Directed by Chris Columbus

The movie takes us directly into the world of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) without any explanation of the magical world in which the movie is set. The assumption is that the entire world already has either seen Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or read the J.K. Rowling book from which it was adapted. While this is probably true, one of the best parts about this series of books is the detail with which the author creates this entirely separate world. While the book of CoS led us further into this world, giving more detail as to the workings of the day to day magical society, very little of that is translated to the film. That bit of personal bias out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we? Since I saw this movie because of a 9 year old, I’m going to review this movie with a bit of perspective from the junior league.

“It was a good movie, I liked it”.*

The plot line of CoS is fairly straightforward. After an abysmal summer with the Dursleys, and an unpleasant visit from a creature called a house elf, Harry makes his way back for a second year at Hogwart’s School of wizardry (via flying car, no less). Having been reunited with friends and foes alike, Harry is shocked when he begins hearing voices that the others apparently do not. He shares this disturbing news with best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), not long before a dire message is found written in blood in the school, along with a petrified cat. When Harry falls under suspicion as the perpetrator, he and his friends set about trying to solve the mystery, by means of various trickery and school rules infractions. Meanwhile, more people (and a ghost!) are being petrified. All the while, a troubling racist element is rearing its ugly head at Hogwarts, aimed at those who are not of pure wizard blood. The film proceeds with its focus on the mystery, as well as the various aspects of life at Hogwarts (magical plants class, transformations and, of course, Quiddich). There is much detail to be found in the story, but these are the basics.

“The best characters were Harry, Ron and Hermione. They’re just really good actors. I liked when Colin kept taking pictures of Harry”.

While these performances are not Oscar caliber from an adult point of view, the actors are very relatable for the kids (at whom the movie is presumed to be directed). The actors growth since the first film, the onset of puberty, the slightly annoying over the top facial expressions and dialogue are perfectly suited to the younger viewer. The deliciously malicious performance by (Tom Felton) as Draco Malfoy is especially strong.

“I liked the weeping willow. The mandrakes were really bleah. The basilisk was more like a dinosaur, but it was really neat. I really liked the barfing slugs”!

The CGI and special effects in general are fabulous, from Dobby the house elf who tries to save Harry’s life, to the giant spiders deep in their lair. The Quiddich match exceeds the one in Sorcerer’s Stone, with some amazing flying scenes. The kids are far more awed by these than they are affected by the nuances of the performances, or the strength of the directing. The technology is used well here, and while some of the scenes are a bit scarier than those in the first movie (the main reason being that they are so very LOUD), the FX are a large part of what makes up the tone and feel of this magical place. Hogwarts itself is a sight to behold, both inside and out, with a bit of trickery around every corner to keep the young’ns on their toes.

“The funniest character was Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) when he was really, really dumb. The worst part was dueling club. It was working around with wand work. Nothing very interesting”.

The adult performances with their subtle wit and charm are for the most part lost on the kids. While Snape (Alan Rickman), Dumbledore the Headmaster (the late Richard Harris) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) may delight the adults in the audience, the nuance of these performances is largely lost on the younger set. The adults who see the film will certainly appreciate these bits scattered throughout the movie. I’ve seen some criticism that the adults did not have larger roles, but kids relate to kids. The adults are there to add spice, but are certainly not the main course.

“The thing you have to be careful with the cloak is that they can still see you and stuff. The only thing I wondered about Quiddich was where they were chasing each other. The snitches boundaries are on the field, not the bleachers, I read that in “Quiddich Through the Ages””.

These kids know their Harry Potter. Deviations from the book are likely to be frowned upon, and are few and far between. Director Chris Columbus may not score points for originality here, but he definitely scores for knowing his audience. This is true all around. Columbus gives the viewers what they want. The young viewers. This may seem lacking to some of the adult audience, but for the kids, he more than gets the job done.

“It was 3 to 4 hours long”.

Amen, junior. It was actually 2 ½ plus hours long, but that’s a long time for a lot of kids. And for a lot of adults seeing a kid’s movie. A little judicious trimming couldn’t have hurt too much.

“I liked it when Hagrid came”.

Just as a warning to the adults out there, this movie does contain one of the most irritating clichés ever to be set to film. The scene in which one person starts clapping, then two, then soon it’s a standing ovation. Awful, but the kids love it. Go figure. Once again, Columbus knows his audience.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets really hits a home run for the young audience for which it is primarily intended. Adults may see some weaknesses in the child performers, and wish the adults were on screen more. They may also see the special effects as over the top. I enjoyed this movie, made even better because I was with a child who was quite entranced (the movie is rated PG, so parents do need to decide if it will be too much for their particular kidlet). So, suspend your disbelief, leave your grown up world behind, and just enjoy, with kids or without!

*All italicized quotes eagerly provided by aforementioned 9 year old who wants everyone to know he really liked the barfing slugs!.

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