Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Grade: B
Year: 2002
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fantasy/Action
Rated: PG

Although too long for my taste, Chamber of Secrets puts the first of supposedly seven Harry Potter movies to rest. Almost everything about part II is an improvement over the original, including the entertainment factor. It's faster, wittier, and loudly pronounces that you haven't seen the last of Harry Potter.

Unlike the first movie, Chamber of Secrets doesn't explain anything. Those who haven't seen the first one may get lost somewhere in the middle of installment. Even the new characters hardly get an introduction, whereas the first film took its time building up the characters. You're also expected to know what a "muggle" is, and a few other words in the Rowlings language.

Students at the Hogwarts school are about to return for yet another semester of fun, magic and mischief. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), lives at home with a his foster family, Aunt (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle (Richard Griffiths), who literally lock him in his bedroom whenever company arrives. Is he that embarrassing? The parents are so cruel, I wonder if Harry is allowed to eat regularly.

One thing that I never understood regarding Harry's status, is his place in society. He has a famous name, and he is regarded as a celebrity whenever somebody new meets him. "So you're Harry Potter?!" I started to wonder why he couldn't find a better home to live in, one that doesn't treat him like a slave.

I continued to ponder that thought after Harry broke out of his room, having to break through steel bars sealed the window. With the help from his best friend Ron (Rupert Grint), Harry is taken away in the magical flying car so they can return to Hogwarts, but not before visiting Ron's family, where it appear that they love Harry more than Ron. Why doesn't he just live with them?

Deciding to return back to Hogwarts goes against the advice of Dobby, a small slave creature who warns Harry not to return. Dobby, a slightly less annoying Jar Jar Binks, predicts that Harry will face danger upon his return. He shows up again near the end in a rather moving scene.

When Harry and crew do return to Hogwarts, they discover that something terrible is going on. Students and animals are literally turning up petrified. A secret chamber has been opened, and some kind of force may or may not have been set loose to feast on the children. The target appears to be students who are not full-blooded wizards. A flashback sequence done in a creative style will finish the explanation.

It will be up to the children to solve the mystery. They will investigate, make potions, sneak into forbidden areas, and break all the school rules, setting up the question: Which is riskier -- Knowing that you face uncertain death, or expulsion from the school?

Surprisingly, Chris Columbus isn't contracted to direct the third installment, despite the success he had with the first two. According to the Internet Movie Database, Alfonso Cuarón will takeover for at least the 2004 release, Prisoner of Azkaban.

Chamber of Secrets is much more tenebrous than The Sorcerer's Stone. Several scenes of suspense will possibly have you jumping out of your seat, which may prove to be too intense for a PG movie. I heard it almost received a PG-13 certificate, and I wouldn't have been surprised if it did. The shocks may also be extreme for a young audience. Creepy voices that loom through the dreary hallways don't lighten things up, and neither does a ghost that haunts the girls bathroom.

I didn't expect much from the young cast in regards to acting. Daniel Radcliffe was mediocre, as were most of the other characters. Rupert Grint's character, Ron, must have lost more courage since the last movie, as he is always crying and wanting to go home. Maybe because he shows so much emotion, that seeing Harry walk through the darkest forests without any hesitation isn't believable. I liked Emma Watson, who brilliantly plays Hermione, the book smart friend who is always ahead of her class in the knowledge of magical spells.

The adults weren't that much better. Alan Rickman puts in decent effort as Professor Snape, and Maggie Smith is alright as Professor McGonagall. There are some new characters, who include Jason Isaacs as the villainous Lucius Malfoy. Kenneth Branagh is a celebrity who wrote books on magic, and claims to be the greatest. Interesting, but he doesn't seem to fit the Harry Potter movie profile. But it worked, as many critics liked his performance better than everyone else.

It will be interesting to see how the new Professor Dumbledore will do, having to replace the late Richard Harris, whose movie career ended on a high note. I wonder how much of Dumbledore's frailness was a result from acting. Every time his face was shown on camera, you could see evidence of the old man who will not make it to the third movie.

The special effects are sharp and good looking. There are man-eating spiders, ghosts, and everything else that I don't need to mention to say how complete and edgy Chamber of Secrets is. It will be enjoyed by people of all ages, including the fans of the book series.

Unfortunately, Chamber of Secrets unravels at the end. It was a little longer than it should have been, and it was clear that it just ran out of gas in the closing segment. I won't say why everyone had a reason to be so excited in the end, you'll find out for yourself how exaggerated it is.

Will Harry Potter become the most successful movie series of all time? Possibly, especially if seven films are made. The first two have been good, let's see how the rest can stack up against their giant predecessors.

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