Yesterday I reviewed Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone which I concluded was a pretty average film that didn’t leave much of an impression or a desire to see more. But see more I have. Today I have watched The Chamber Of Secrets for the first time. All I knew about this one before was that it involved some big ruddy snake and a flying car. Now I know that it also involves a lot of scenes taking place in the girls toilets. On with the show then…
2:40. 2 hours and 40 minutes… TWO HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES! Why the hell is this film 2 hours and 40 minutes long? It’s a film about a boy training to be a wizard with a little magical mystery for kids. It’s not Dances With Wolves or Gone With The Wind so why does it need to be that long? Do kids actually sit through films this long without getting restless? It’s a good job it’s a better film than The Philosopher’s Stone.
In this second entry in the series Harry has returned to Hogwarts despite being warned by a slave elf named Dobby not to. It’s a good job the first film spent it’s entirety telling us how famous Harry is for doing nothing or I’d have no idea why this elf thing cared enough to warn him not to go back. Anywho, return he does and before long bad stuff is going down. Harry’s hearing voices. Evils are conspiring & bloody messages are left on walls with totally not dead cats nearby. I guess killing the cat would be too much for a series that alludes to child abuse and a hierarchical society of pre-deterministic class system. Harry, Ron and Hermione decide to investigate these goings on and, of course, danger looms.
Over the course of the film we learn that..
A) Harry is a loose cannon, he plays it loose and he plays it fast. Basically he seems to ignore the school’s rules whenever he can. The rebel.
B) Girls are only good for cooking and being rescued. Honestly. All Hermione adds tot he story is her making a potion before she’s petrified. Add to that Ron’s sister Ginny getting herself kidnapped and you’ve got a slightly worrying message being sent out to kids.
C) If you’re in Slytherin you must be evil. Not a single Slytherin student shows signs of having a mind of their own. I’m sure there’s some convoluted reason why but it’s not apparent to me.
D) No matter how much danger you get into you can always rely on Deus Ex Machina to save you.
Most of that’s true of the first film too but here it is even more apparent. I won’t go spoiling stuff but suffice to say either people are really watching over Harry and letting him get into trouble or he is the luckiest kid in the world. Stuff literally drops out of the sky to help him save the day. It’s remarkable really.
The story is much better paced that The Philosopher’s Stone was and wastes little time getting to Hogwarts. We see a little of Harry’s mean Aunt and Uncle who seemed to have softened enough to let him have an actual bedroom this time. Despite being nearly 3 hours long the story does move along fast enough to not make it too apparent. It’s a rare skill to avoid that but the film is still way too long for what it needs to be. There’s plenty of moments that could have been shortened down or rearranged to get the exact same point across. For example we didn’t need so many incidents involving Harry being put off staying at Hogwarts in the early part of the film. The script still has it’s clunky moments, such as it’s need to reintroduce every character by name in the first 20 minutes, but generally it’s a much better planned out story than the first. There’s a lot less of the random plot progressions from Hagrid blurting stuff out.
New characters are introduced that are either related to the current cast or are there to flesh out the world of Hogwarts. Kenneth Branaghs character Gilderoy Lockheart is a particularly interesting character. A fake hero who telegraphs his inadequacies so loudly you have to assume he was hired by Dumbledore for the sole purpose of being foiled by Harry. One character that is genuinely interesting is Moaning Myrtle. There’s something poetic about a ghost trapped in one location that everyone at some point needs to visit but they don’t because of her presence. She’s confined to the girls toilets, which is where Harry and Ron spend way too much time, and all she wants is some company but because of her miserable ways people just won’t go in there. It’s not like she doesn’t have reason to be miserable. In true JK Rowling style she holds a key piece of evidence to the unraveling of this stories mystery but conveniently doesn’t pony up the info until it’s most needed.
Another new character is Dobby. A sado-masochistic slave Elf belonging to a cruel family, three guesses who’s family that is. He has taken it upon himself to stop Harry from returning to Hogwarts because he is aware of an evil plot against him. And in another moment of Rowling story telling genius he won’t pony up that vital information for fear of being punished by his masters. Never mind it would have given everyone a head start on all the badness that went down. A child almost dies because he is unwilling to talk and no-one has an issue with this.
Performances from the children are much improved this time around. they’re still prone delivering lines with all the passion of a chest of drawers but in general they appear to be relatively real people. Something they failed to convince me of the last time. A lot of the cast do slip into pure cartoonish performances but it’s a kids film so it’s kind of allowed.
Special effects are much better this time around. Not groundbreaking, even for the time, but they are at least passable and not laughable. The Quidditch scene manage to show just how far they progressed in the year between the films and it shows that Chris Columbus did realise just how weak they were in the first film. There’s no made for tv trolls this time that’s for sure. Dobby could have been done better, considering this was right at the same time as Peter Jackson was breaking new ground with Smeagol in the Lord Of The Rings films, but what they have managed with him isn’t so bad that it’s distracting.
Overall this is a much better film but still not anything I’d consider special. It’s story moves along well and no-one really drags the film down with a bad performance. There’s still a lot of things and stuff being thrown about for little reason other than to give you something odd to look at but this is no Cantina bar of distractions that’s for sure. The climax of the film is much more satisfying than the first films but does rely on some of the most blatant Deus Ex Machina ever seen. There’s nothing that really stands out as pure awful though. It’s a little too dark for maybe a PG certificate what with message being written in blood on walls but it’s nothing that’ll give kids nightmares. Also you can see the odd threads of storylines of future films being worked in. A second physical object being tied to Voldemort (the first being the Philospher’s Stone) is present. Ron’s sister Ginny seems to be developing a crush on Harry. And as for Hermione, Ron clearly wants to Slytherin to her Gryffindor. At the least the film has made me have a modicum of interest in seeing the next film. Which I shall tomorrow night when I watch Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.