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IN SHORT: Wow! [Rated PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language. 161 minutes]
The second coming of Harry Potter is a film far superior to its predecessor. A movie that successfully crushes a best selling novel into a timeframe that mandates that you avoid the Godzilla sized soda. If you need to run out -- we're writing for the adults here because the kidlets will never leave their seats -- you will miss something. What a wonderful thing! (And repeating ourselves from our review of Potter Numero Uno, we remind y'all that Rule One of this Site is that you shouldn't have to read the book to understand the movie. No comparison is made to Source Material. That being said, 95 per cent of anything you need to know about the Harry Potter Universe is present in this film though sometimes condensed into one sentence. If you passed on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone , or ignored the vid while your too small kidlets chugged it down, you can plant for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets without much problem. Your kidlets can explain the Hogwart's School "house" system and who Voldemort is as parts of this film are heavily dependent upon that knowledge, all elaborated upon in last year's flick. If your child is under the age of eight or so, and scares easily, Chamber of Secrets may be a bit of a rough ride.
As we've written in other reviews about serial stories like this one, once the basic universe is established, it's off to the races from there on out. Potter is the first of the new crew of major players (X-Men, Spider-Man and the Lord of the Rings in this group) to release its own Episode Two, so to speak, and it goes off with a bang. Spielberg did it with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lucas did it with The Empire Strikes Back. Director Chris Columbus joins that august group, all of whom made this middle aged old fart feeling like a twelve year old kidlet. As The Godfather II trumped The Godfather in a very different genre and category of film, Chamber of Secrets blows the doors off of Sorcerer's Stone.
Not that we need to recap the story for any kid, or parent who has read the novel to their kid, but Rule One still applies so, as succinctly as possible:
Young Harry Potter is a magician in a world of ordinary humans. "Muggles," we are called. In their undersized row house, Harry's oversized Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), dote over their whining, spoiled brat fatso of a natural born son, Dudley (Harry Melling). Harry is kept, literally, a prisoner in his own bedroom -- padlocks on the doors and iron bars outside the windows. There is no way out of this room, once you're locked in, unless your pal Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) happens to have a flying car with a long rope and a hook.
Waitasec, we forgot to mention the sudden, surprise appearance of Dobby the Elf (voiced by Toby Jones), who magically appears in Harry's bedroom to warn the mage-in-training not to return to Hogwart's. Harry isn't about to have that at all, of course, and Dobby will pop in and out to wreak havoc as the film continues.
Liberated from captivity, Harry and Ron are astounded that they can't access the magical platform for the train to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they are to begin their second year with other best friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Hermione, formerly an annoying, book reading know it all has softened during the vacation interval and started to mature in all the right places. Ron's all googly eyed. Heh heh heh.
For the next ninety minutes, you lucky viewers are bombarded by so much information about Potter's world that a second viewing of the film may be required. Potter's nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) returns, this time behind the cloak of his autocratic father, Lucius (Jason Isaacs) and we are introduced to two brand new and important characters: Ron Weasley's little sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and the new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), a pompous, prancing vainglorious legend in the Community of Wizards; author of half a dozen books describing his amazing exploits in the World who, as anyone with a double digit IQ could guess, is quite full of hot air. All activities at this year's Hogwart's are photographed for The Daily Prophet, the school's newspaper, by ever present photographer, Colin Creevey (Hugh Mitchell)
Two ghosts also take supporting roles in this film: Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), who haunts the girl's lavatory, and Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson) who manifests his personality in the pages of a diary filled with empty pages. These two will lead us to the story hinted at in the title, though we'll find our heroes solving a fifty year old murder mystery that had life changing effects upon then-wizard Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane in the present day story) and a younger Professor Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris -- in the present day the Headmaster of Hogwart's). While they solve that murder, students at Hogwart's are dropping like flies, mysteriously petrified by an unknown Evil that threatens, as esteemed Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) puts it, to close the School.
Branagh steals every scene he plays in, topping last year's scene stealer, Alan Rickman (as Professor Snape, he of pained expression permanently etched on his face).
As we move on, though, there are a pair of far too convenient, and at least one unexplainable, rescues by "things that fly" and, as we move over the two hour mark, a pair of monologs that cram in tons of information to keep Chamber of Secrets from topping the three hour mark. Minor gripes, true, but just out of keeping with the flow of the rest of the film that we noticed. As for the rest of the film, once we get into the Magical World, Columbus and the effects team at ILM (headed by Jim Mitchell and Nick Davis) stuff every frame with impressive illusions. John Richardson supervised photographic Special Effects and Nick Dudman designed the supernatural creatures and Make-Up Effects.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, he would have paid . . .
A perfect ten if you don't follow Rule One (or just a shade under if you agree that John Cleese being wasted as Nearly Headless Nick). For those even crankier film students who only look at the ratings number, click on that number before you send you dissMail, and learn what this site is about before you waste our time.
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