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Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Directed by: Chris Columbus
Premise: The second film in the Harry Potter series. A creature haunts the Wogwarts school, preying on the students and staff.
What Works: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets continues the story and manages to build on the foundation laid by the first film. The Chamber of Secrets exceeds the original in a few critical ways. First, the special effects of The Chamber of Secrets are much better than the previous film. The matting and composite problems of The Sorcerer’s Stone have been fixed and the digital elements integrate more or less seamlessly with the performers and props captured in-camera. Second, the acting by the children, especially the three leads, is notably improved. Although the actors were acceptable in The Sorcerer’s Stone, the performances by the child actors are much more natural in The Chamber of Secrets, in part because the dialogue is smoother and not so verbose. There is also a terrific supporting performance by Kenneth Branagh, who hams it up as an arrogant celebrity wizard assuming a teaching post at Hogwarts. Although The Chamber of Secrets still has the by-the-numbers cinematic approach of the previous Harry Potter films, the sequel also gives the first indication in the series of the creepy and gothic sensibilities that the future films in the series seize upon.

What Doesn’t: Of all the Harry Potter films, The Chamber of Secrets is the weakest. The second film exacerbates the flaws of the first picture, most notably in its low economy of storytelling. Ideally, each scene in a film ought to accomplish multiple goals: advancing the plot, developing the characters, and increasing the conflict. But in The Sorcerer’s Stone and especially in The Chamber of Secrets, a lot of the scenes are expository in nature with only one thing accomplished. The key example of this in The Chamber of Secrets is the character of Dobby the elf. Dobby is a pointless character who serves no purpose and his role could be cut without negatively affecting the story at all. (In fact, eliminating him might improve it.) The Chamber of Secrets is also hurt by its use of coincidence and acts of fate. This is especially true in the ending as characters and props just appear for no reason. This deus ex machina fault happens a lot in the film, and it actually hurts the story because it robs Harry and his friends of volition and the ability to impact the story by direct action, and this ultimately limits the characters’ ability to be heroic. These sidebars and subplots extend the film’s length but dilute the potency of the story, resulting in a flabby film that is long on running time but short on narrative action. Like the previous picture, The Chamber of Secrets also suffers from a lack of visual flair but because of its bloated length that flaw is made worse. This is a film that is directed not with a sense of narrative, thematic, or cinematic purpose but produced in the style of an industrial assembly line, obligatorily going through all the motions and checking all the boxes but never doing anything creative or interesting with its characters, environments, or situations.

DVD extras: The two-disc edition includes deleted scenes, interviews, and featurettes.
Bottom Line: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a mixed effort. The film refines the special effects but the movie is too long and its story is unwieldy.

Episode: #349 (July 24, 2011)