Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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The problem with most Hollywood sequels is they are for the most part unnecessary after thoughts. A film makes a ton of money and the studios needing to justify their existence make up a sequel to cash in on the original film’s success. With rare exceptions like Aliens and the Godfather Part Two, these sequels are pale copies of the films the come after. Now, there is a second type of sequel. I suppose technically they are not sequels since they represent a continuation of a long story that requires several films to properly relate. When these films come from a natural series of books the audience can be greatly rewarded with an excellent experience. This is the case with the second installment of the story of Harry Potter, boy wizard. Each of the planned films comes from a different book in the series, each covering one year in the young wizard’s life at school, the Hogswarts Academy for Wizardry. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has a leg up on the first film. Since it can be safely assumed that most of the audience has seen the first film this installment can forego the explanations and jump right into the action. J.K. Rowling created in her books a rich tapestry, an internally consistent world of wonder and amazement. Fortunately, this attention to details has been transported to the films. The film picks up in the sophomore year of students Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as well as their teachers in the magical arts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris), Snape (Alan Rickman) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith). Students have been found literally frozen in the hollowed halls of Hogswarts. The clues lead Harry and his friends to the Camber of Secrets hidden deep beneath their school. This camber can only be accessed by a descendant of the more nefarious co-founder of Hogswarts, Salazar Slytherin. The plot is not rushed or simplified for the sake of the younger audiences. This in itself is a refreshing change from most movies marketed to the pre and early teen set. Instead the story respects the fact that kids today are especially able to grasp the intricate twists to the story line. It also has enough going for it to keep the adults not only interested by riveted to the screen. While this film depends heavily on the special effects they are used here to create the detailed world the film takes place in rather than the all too popular substitution for a plot.

The main focus of the film is the young trio of heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione. In this film the young actors charged with presenting them are naturally more comfortable in their roles and this adds to the natural feel of the film, extremely important for a story set in an unnatural world. Just as students returning for their second year at school relate better to each other Radcliff, Grint and Watson display a more ‘at ease’ feeling with each other. Each of these actors shows considerable talent that should ensure their careers even after they leave these films. Since each book, and subsequently each film, is set about a year apart, they natural growth of the cast fits realistically with the characters they play. Radcliff commands the screen as Harry. He doesn’t go over the line by overplaying his role. He shows the insecurity of Harry, a boy growing into manhood with great ability and family tradition to up hold. So many people in the audience will be able to relate to Grint’s presentation of Ron. We have all been there, a kid in school that feels out of place, holding on to the few friends he has made. Granger is perfect as the ‘know it all’ Hermione. Once again she avoids the obvious overplaying of the role and permits her character to also have the natural insecurities of youth. These kids are so good at playing their roles that you can easily forget they are playing roles. Among the adult actors here it is sad indeed that Mr. Harris passed away shortly after the filming. His long and varied career added much to each and every film his has been in. He will be missed in the future installments of this series.

Few directors can handle a youthful cast the way Chris Columbus can. From films like Home Alone he has shown that when he directs child actors he does so with a respect tempered with authority that ensures the success of the project. Columbus treads the fine line between making a movie for children and one that adults can actually get into. While the subject matter of this story is far darker and foreboding than its predecessor he handles it with a lighter hand so as not to overwhelm the younger viewers. Columbus provides the audience with a fully formed world of imagination. Each time I viewed this film I found more details in the background; little additions in the set that make the film come alive. There is even a little nod to the competition, a painting of Gandalf the Grey in the study of the headmaster. The Hogswart of this film is grander than in the preceding film. Just as a second year student would naturally become more familiar with his school we as the audience are more at home this time out. There is more to see and enjoy.

Like the first DVD set this one is packed to the overflowing mark with extras. There are far too many to go into but rest assured that you will have many hours exploring this disc. Among the more notable are 19 deleted scenes, a tour of chamber and on the DVD ROM side the ability to control your PC with your voice. Add to this puzzles, games and interviews and you have a disc the family can enjoy together. The seven channel Dolby EX audio will fill your room and down mixes to normal 5.1 with no notable problems. The Anamorphic 2.35:1 video gives a clear view of even the tiniest details in this movie. Whether you are new to this modern mythology or a long time fan the disc will entertain and delight all ages in your household. It is rare that a series of discs can maintain such high standards but Warner Brothers has done it again. Now all that is left is to await patiently the next in the series. Make room on your living room shelf, this one is a keeper.

Posted 04/10/03

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