It was okay. It wasn't bad, just nothing special.
That's how I characterized Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to a friend of mine who works as journalist covering films and therefore had passes to give me for an advanced screening.
I went into the film with mixed feelings. I love the books, but suspect filmed versions will only discourage new generations of readers, or failing that, it will usurp their imaginations as they watch the films prior to reading the tales.
And, not to be a total curmudgeon, but to see Harry Potter take his place in a culture of stupidly expensive, over-hyped products – as a movie, DVD, action figure, lego set, stuffed doll, fast-food tie-in, etc. — is a bit dispiriting.
But then again, I enjoyed the elaborate detail of the first film, as well as the opportunity to experience J.K. Rowling’s fantasy world and its compelling fictions in another medium. Such is modern life and its guilty pleasures.
Not that I would characterize the books as guilty pleasures. They are rich in humor, drama, and imagination. As millions of readers attest, there is no need to pigeonhole them into a category such as "children’s literature"; they are simply excellent fiction.
The first film drew me in as a good film should. The opening was full of anticipation of Harry's escape from his hellish life – the letters from Hogwarts increasing in number until the air in the Dursley's living room was thick with them, the retreat to an island to get away from the assault, and the entrance of Hagrid, realized beautifully by Robbie Coltrane. Then, as the tension was released, there was the majestic unfolding of Harry's new world – Diagon Alley, train platform 9&3/4, the train ride with new friends, and finally, Hogwarts.
But with that film, as with the new one, I left the theater less than satisfied. Our three heroes, as in the books, were likable, and I was behind them, but by the end of both 2&1/2+ hour films I was mostly exhausted and reminded, more than anything else, of Rowling's brilliance, her way with a fantasy world that feels grounded yet fanciful, and above all, humorous. The Whomping Willow in Chamber of Secrets is a perfect example. It's grounded (obviously), it's fanciful (a tree that whomps anyone who gets too close), and it's humorous (the name alone).