I was amongst the disappointed crowd after the first Harry Potter film, billed as the greatest film of all time it feel desperately short of the mark. Not a complete failure on all levels, and I did enjoy the first film, it was at best a well-made children’s film. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets succeeds where the first did not, a children’s movie that works as adult fantasy.
It is very obvious from the very start of Harry Potter that Warner Bros. and director Chris Columbus have both learnt some very valuable lessons from the first film. It is darker, scarier, it contains some real magic and it entertains both adults and children alike, it was not over hyped, it was not overdone and it did justice to the books. I must admit I was a little scared when the film opened and Dobby the house Elf made his appearance, ‘mini-Jar Jar Binks’ came to mind until the character redeemed himself with the first comic relief of the film. That was basically the entire mood of the film, some scenes made you cringe at first with the stilted book like dialogue but they all tended to redeem themselves very quickly.
Like the books Columbus still takes the time to re-introduce the characters and places ever so briefly, obviously to remind our young attention less audience who is who and what is what. Some questions still remain unanswered, like why is Harry still with his awful muggle aunt and uncle, but in the end these questions are not very important to the plot, so why let little facts like this get in the way of a good story. Still we jump straight into the story of the Chamber of Secrets and the dreadful past of Hogwarts.
At some points, my friends and I looked at each other in wonder, ‘is this a kids movie’ we asked ourselves as certain events unfolded on screen. Certainly some of the content is of an adult nature (nothing to with sex thank the lord) but some of the scares and some of the more harsh treatment of a few certain characters would make you think this was not intended for kids. Fortunately the children still enjoy it and these adult themes seem to only make the film tangible for adult viewers. So parents can relish in the fact that they won’t be bored for the whole two hours of forty minutes.
The child actors too take a step up from the first film, all putting forth a far more mature performance than before. Daniel Radcliffe now seems quote content as Harry Potter and he loses that totally annoying cardboard cut-out style approach of the first film. Rupert Grint shows us he is in puberty with a new tone of voice in every scene os good friend Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson (II) starts to look like a young attractive star in the making as Hermione Granger. Special mention must go to Kenneth Branagh who almost steals the whole show, let alone a few scenes as Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Isaacs and the cunningly evil Lucious Malfoy. The rest all seem to remain same as they did in the first film, with no particular standout. There is a little mellow-drama and some over acting and some would call the final sequence of the film a little over the top, but it still does not distract from an overall wonderful performance.
The special effects also have increased in quality, supposedly they only had three months to do effects on the first film and it showed, this time around they had a lot more time and they have put in a greater effort. Rumour has it that the Fellowship of the Ring served as inspiration for Columbus to become more daring in his approach to the second film and the effects he could create. He succeeds, with scenes such as the Qudditch game and the dark forest look quite impressive and energetic. The action seems to take a more prominent role in the story and the climax resembles any Hollywood action blockbuster, except with a little more intelligence and fantasy to boot. It is not all perfect, with creations such as the Phoenix being totally dissapointing and looking really out of place, but the problems are small enough that they can be overlooked. Overall this film is far more daring then the first and Columbus has visibly matured in his film making skills.
Finaly note as usual goes to the score, which was far too overwhelming in the first film. This time around it takes a back seat to the action and adds to the film instead of over taking it. I caught a glimpse of music from Attack of the Clones in the Quidditch game and if I am not mistaken a number of sequences sounded suspiciously like other John Williams scores from the past. Still it was a far more moody attempt at music, and it worked very well in this film.
In the end you have a rare thing, as sequel that is better than the first! My friends tell me the third will be even better and I am even keen to read the book first. Still this film is a darker, scarier look at the world of Harry Potter, and it should delight all audiences of all ages.