Summer Movie Showdown: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Summer Movie Showdown: "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 161 minutes
Release date: November 15, 2002
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy

As the second installment of the Harry Potter movie series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" brings the now-familiar characters back for another adventure. Like all of the movies in the series, this one is based heavily on the popular book series by J.K. Rowling. This film is more than just a fun fantasy romp though. It also spends time exploring themes of what it means to be part of a community and how to make meaningful choices.

The movie begins at the start of Harry's second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the premier training ground for young wizards and witches and an escape from the world of mundanes who don't understand them. Young fans of the book series are sure to love the film, but even those who haven't read the books can easily understand what's going on and enjoy the movie for its own sake. Parents should be aware, however, that the movie has its sinister moments and may be frightening for very young children who can't yet understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

The movie's star is Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who tackles the tough work of maturing into his abilities and personality while at the same time hunting down something deadly and mysterious that's been released by the opening of the Chamber of Secrets downstairs at the school. Harry is joined by his two best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The teens take guidance from the wise Headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and enlist the aid of their old friend Hagrid the Giant (Robbie Coltrane), but in the end, it's their own skills and abilities that must bring the mystery of the chamber and the dark force it's released to its compelling conclusion.

The plotline is straightforward, and the mystery of who opened the chamber and how the teens will get rid of the monster it released is compelling enough to propel the viewer's interest along. Throughout the movie, the teenage protagonists must also deal with the trials and tribulations of school, which involves navigating social interactions with other classmates, such as the conniving Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and handling assignments dealt out by their teachers, who include Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), and Sprout (Miriam Margolyes.)

Director Chris Columbus is skilled at handling young actors, and his directing in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" displays this masterfully. The movie rides the fine balance between being fun, exciting, and thought-provoking without delving too far into campiness. The blend of coherent plotline combined with kid-pleasing moments of goofiness make the movie enjoyable for viewers of all ages. Columbus and his cinematographer, Roger Pratt, also work the camera angles and lighting well, bringing out the mood of the moment, whether it's a playful scene between friends or a dark foreboding scene just before a major discovery, with creative camera work.

The visual effects field has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few decades, and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" takes special effects to new levels that are visually spectacular. The movie includes characters who are completely computer generated, such as Dobby the House Elf and Dumbeldore's phoenix, and the excitement and challenge of a Quiddich game is brought to breath-catching life through impressive computer graphics work. In addition to computer-created effects, there's also a highly realistic animatronic giant spider to terrify and fascinate viewers. What make the special effects in this movie so impressive isn't the big noticeable things though. The visual effects team has done an amazing job blending backgrounds, lighting objects properly, and paying attention to all the tiny details that make you feel like you're really there, even when you know that the images can't possibly be real.

One of the best things about "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is how the characters really seem to grow and change throughout the movie. It can be tough to make a middle film or book as impressive as the first or last installment of a series, but this movie holds its own. This film, like the book it's based on, is a magnificent bridge between the lives of the children we met in the first movie and the future grown-up individuals they'll become by the end of the final story arc in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5