Apparently, I’m something of an anomaly these days – a person who has never read the “Harry Potter” books. Part of that is that I just have a built-in tendency to not want to read, see or listen to things that “everyone” else is. The more popular something gets, the less likely I am to be interested – at least as a general rule. There are, of course, exceptions.
One thing that will help create such an exception is boredom. When I’m bored, if the only thing that sounds even remotely interesting is also something that is exceptionally popular, I’ll probably go ahead and check it out, just to see what all the fuss is. So it was last fall that I stumbled across “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, and was completely bowled over.
It’s always scary, though, to start watching a movie you know is part of a series – because so often quality seems to go downhill once the first one is made. Thankfully, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” lives up to the promises made in “Sorcerer’s Stone”, and even manages to build on it.
Because we’ve been introduced to all the characters and places in the first film, the second movie is freer to focus on the story, which allows the filmmakers to get more in-depth with the plot, a very nice touch.
The story, this time, is much darker than in the first film. Harry is warned not to go back to Hogwarts, but knowing it is his only true home, he is determined to return. Once there, he soon discovers a message written in blood, that bigotry exists even in the wizard’s world, and that within the halls of Hogwarts, there is a Chamber of Secrets that contains a horror that threatens the future of the school.
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) have grown between the films – as is to be expected – and it helps with conveying the respective growth in their characters. At first, it was a bit disorienting to hear Ron and Harry’s new, deeper voices, but because the story shows how the characters have matured, its a feeling that passes quickly. The only real complaint I have is that, on occasion, Grint seems to perhaps go a bit overboard in how much he exaggerates Ron’s facial expressions, but it’s doesn’t detract, really, from the enjoyment of the film, and hopefully it’s a tendency he’ll quickly outgrow.
Kenneth Branagh appears as Gilderoy Lockhart, a grandiose braggart who seems far more interested in his image than in teaching his charges. Branagh is well suited for this role, but the way he played Lockhart reminded me more of Eddie Izzard‘s turn as Jerry Devine in “Velvet Goldmine” than anything. Still, its a fun character, and Branagh obviously relishes the chance to chew scenery with abandon.
A few other new characters are introduced along the way, including Mr. Weasley, Ron’s father, who studies muggles for a living, and Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father, and a very cold, hard man. His influence on his son is obvious and meeting him helps add a bit more dimension to Draco, making him a bit less than just a standard-issue foil for our heroes.
And, of course, there’s Dobby, the House Elf, a CGI creation that some have, curiously, compared to Gollum from The Two Towers. While they are both CGI creatures interacting with the cast on a greater level than most CGI creatures have in the past, there is little to base a comparison on aside from that. Dobby’s role, while important, doesn’t place him on screen that much, and as a character, he doesn’t have nearly the depth (or the need for it) that Gollum has. Still, Dobby is a fun character, and convincingly done.
The Quidditch game in this film is almost better than that in “Sorcerer’s Stone” – it’s faster, furiously-played, and even more dangerous this time around, and, of course, there’s a return trip to Diagon Alley as well.
One of the strengths of the Harry Potter series is that the entire story arc has already been planned out, so you don’t end up with the improbable coincidences that mark so many other movie sequels, stretching the story a bit too thin and leading to the general decline in quality the longer a series goes on. There are places where you can already see things being built on from the first movie, and hints dropped at what we may see as the series progresses. It really helps give a sense of “reality” (though obviously an altered one) to the world in which the Harry Potter stories take place, and that’s a nice change of pace.
The DVD set itself is very nice. The movie transfer looks very good, and the sound is effective even on your basic “built into the TV” sound system. The best part, though, is, of course, the extras. There’s a great interview with JK Rowling and the scriptwriter for the movies, that shows just how involved she is with the film series, and the kind of attention being paid to staying true to the books. Also included is an interactive tour of Dumbledore’s office, letting you get a closer look at many of the objects lying around. It also has a short behind-the-scenes feature that not only looks at how the office itself was created, but also looks at some of the other sets, props and costumes as well.
My favourite part, though, is the interviews with the students, professors and “more” (adults who aren’t teachers at the school). It gives you a few glimpses into the actors away from their characters, and what they’ve brought to the characters. I did, though, feel a twinge of sadness at seeing the brief bit featuring Richard Harris, because it brought home again that he won’t be in any of the future films – and it’s hard to see how anyone could replace him.
All in all, I highly recommend this fil, and the rest of the DVD package as well. I’ve now had it just barely over 24 hours, and am getting ready to watch it for a third time. It’s that enjoyable.