Sunday 12 February 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In 2002 Chris Columbus achieved one of the more notable achievements of modern Hollywood film-making. He started filming the second Harry Potter movie, The Chamber of Secrets, a fortnight after the first movie came out. He shot the entire movie, edited it and completed visual effects in time for it to come out a year later. By modern standards, where usually an entire year is given over to post-production and visual effects alone, that's an incredible achievement.

It was also clearly one that cost the film-makers dear, and it's unsurprising that the studio switched to an eighteen-month turn-around time for the later movies in the series. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is by no means a disaster, but it is the weakest film of the series.

The biggest problem with the film is the length. At 2 hours and 40 minutes it's the longest film in the series but it has the slightest plot. The book suffers from its relative slightness as well - being more important in establishing backstory than in telling its own story - but on screen the problem is more pronounced. The film runs out of steam a good half-hour before the undercooked epic finale is reached.

There are also some structural and plausibility issues, such people really thinking Harry might be a murderer and Dumbledore being removed from the school for no really convincing reason to try to inject fake drama into the series.

Moving away from that, there are many positives in the movie, but by far the most important is that Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have all improved immensely as actors since the first film. They are more confident, more naturalistic and more relaxed. There's also been a major uptick in the quality of the effects. The Quidditch match is far better-realised than the first movie. Creatures also sit in the environment more convincingly. The film actually benefits now from being viewed as its own beast, whilst on release it was a bit more obvious that the film's effects were disappointing compared to The Lord of the Rings (most notably that Dobby, although effective, was simply nowhere near as good as Gollum as a CG creation interacting with human actors). The dialogue is also less grating, since the writers can get on with the story rather than having to unload huge amounts of exposition.

There's also some superb new additions to the cast, such as Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy and Shirley Henderson as Moaning Myrtle, who expand the cast with charisma and skill.

The result is a bit of an odd film. In many ways a more relaxed and technically accomplished movie than its forebear, with more confident performances, but also one that is far too long for the story it is telling.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (***) is a watchable movie, but it's neither as charming as its predecessor nor as well-paced and constructed as the later films in the series. It's fun but ultimately too long, and too reliant on unconvincing plot turns. The movie is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray) as part of the Complete Harry Potter Movie Collection.

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