Could there be a movie more critic-proof than this one? Try to picture
Mom and Dad approaching the kids and saying, "Grab your coats, Brittany
and Josh, we're going to see the new "Harry Potter!" only to hear,
"Thanks ever so much, Mommy and Daddy, but we couldn't even consider
attending such a significant cinematic offering without reading what Ed
Johnson-Ott thinks of it."
Of course, there are many grown-up fans of the series, so, for them I
shall press on.
If you saw the adaptation of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone," here's what you need to know about the big screen
version of the second novel. Since most of the character introductions
have been taken care of, "Chamber of Secrets" gets moving faster. Bear
in mind, though, the movie assumes you've seen the last one, so you may
wish to read the plot description coming up in a few paragraphs to
re-familiarize yourself with the many players.
IMPORTANT NOTE: After the long closing credits have rolled, there is a
very brief closing scene that shows the fate of a major character.
Adults will appreciate the joke far more than kids (the littlest ones
won't get it), so parents with antsy offspring should consider skipping
it (you can catch it when they roll out the Super Mega Colossal Deluxe
Collector's Edition DVD in a few months - or e-mail me and I'll tell you
Overall, the movie is snappier than the first - the editing is livelier
and John Williams' score is less imposing. It is also longer (161
minutes including credits), more episodic and it lacks the epic feel of
its predecessor. Sensitive souls young and old may experience nightmares
from some of the dark, scary business - particularly a creepy scene with
giant spiders. A later encounter with an incredibly large snake,
however, doesn't feels as menacing as it should.
The young cast seems more assured this time around, although, as with
the first movie, it is frustrating to see such a stellar adult cast
given so little to do. The film introduces some imaginative new
creatures, including the squalling mandrakes. Unfortunately, it also
allows Jar Jar Binks' nephew to pay a call. Dobby the Elf (voiced by
Toby Jones) is a totally CGI character a la Jar Jar, and he is nearly as
annoying. Dobby twitches, cowers, talks too much and does lame slapstick
- does this sound familiar? I wonder why, when filmmakers concoct CGI
beings, they make them jittery, bumbling, babbling and subservient?
As promised, here is the plot description. Study it well, for your
children will likely pepper you with questions during the drive home.
After a lousy summer at the home of his horrible aunt and uncle, made
worse by a disastrous visit from Dobby, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)
escapes and heads off for his second year at the Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry. The trip is far from smooth; something blocks
Harry and his best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) from taking the
short cut through solid stone at the train station, so the boys
commandeer the flying car owned by Ron's dad and go careening through
the skies to campus.
There Harry makes two new acquaintances: teacher of Defense Against the
Dark Arts and self-adoring author (his autobiography is titled "Magical
Me") Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh, reveling in the role) and
long-haired, evil-eyed Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), the father of
Harry-hating school punk Draco (Tom Felton). Soon, Harry and Ron run
into the amazing Hermione (Emma Watson) and the team supreme is happily
With the faculty - headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris, alas,
for the last time), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Professor Snape
(Alan Rickman), Hagrid the Giant (Robbie Coltrane), new Herbology
professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes) and Lockhart, in place, classes
begin. But a series of bizarre incidents, including students becoming
petrified, leads to the legendary Chamber of Secrets, supposed home of a
It is believed that only a descendant of evil wizard Salazar Slytherin,
a Hogwarts co-founder violently opposed to the admission of Muggles (the
children of regular humans) with pureblooded witches and wizards, could
open the chamber. Complications ensue and Harry starts looking awfully
suspicious. After Hermione gets petrified, it gradually becomes clear
the Hogwarts can only be saved if Harry Potter makes a trip to a
dangerous, forbidden place to face a horror that could take his life.
There, that should be enough plot information to get you by. One final
fact of use: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" begins
production this spring and will reach theaters sometime in 2004. For
that installment, the director will be Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá
También). Cuarón is a better filmmaker than Chris Columbus, who helmed
the first two films, and I'm told that "Prisoner of Azkaban" is a better
book than "Chamber of Secrets." If so, the future looks bright for Harry
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott