Sometimes, sequels receive more credit compared to the first films in the series. The majority of reviewers chose The Godfather Part 2 over Part 1. The same is often said for Toy Story 2 and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Well, I can safely announce my preference for Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets to The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, the latter which I reviewed previously.
When I reviewed The Philosopher’s Stone, I did state that spoilers would be revealed. The same warning will apply to my review on The Chamber Of Secrets. But don’t worry, I shall follow the same rule indicating that I highlight any spoiler I reveal in red. So for those who ain’t seen this film, you can skip over the spoilers.
Harry Potter, now 12 years of age, is due to commence his second semester at Hogwarts School. However, a house elf named Dobby warns him not to go back, providing little to no detail on the reasons. Harry disobeys Dobby and attends anyway, despite complications. However, as the semester progresses, he realises that terrible things do happen; a secret room, known as The Chamber Of Secrets has been opened and some of the muggle-born students (referring to those whose parents are non-magic folk) get petrified, putting the whole school in danger.
Remember when I stated that Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone was a fairly light-hearted film (minus Harry’s parents’ murder and Quirrell’s demise)? The Chamber Of Secrets hits a darker tone. Gee, why is it that follow-ups are usually much more darker than their predecessors? My guess is that producers start off with films/shows that are more light-hearted, in case audiences feel uncomfortable with the darker material and therefore steer away from it, therefore lowering the chances of generating more money. For instance, Disney’s Pinocchio was a darker film compared to Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. The same is said for The Empire Strikes Back darkening the previous Star Wars film. Hell, remember when Gerry Anderson, after completing Thunderbirds, created Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons and it proved to be much more hard-edged?
When I call The Chamber Of Secrets dark, I’m referring to certain scenes which may creep out viewers. First of all, the main plot involves certain students getting petrified in the school. They’re like as still as rock sculptures and you often wonder when they’ll regain consciousness or remain stone still forever. That is something no parent should ever have to see happen to their kids. Hell, even Hermione Granger falls victim to the attack. I remember watching the scene where Harry and Ron find Hermione in the medical centre and opening my eyes wide open in shock; the reason partially being the fact that I fancied her (even though she’s a fictional character, but I was only 12 when I first saw the film). In fact, apart from the student attacks, there’s another scene where Hagrid is escorted to Azkaban (some dungeon), because he apparently had something to do with the events of The Chamber’s previous opening fifty years ago, though later we find out he was totally innocent.
And speaking of which, the writing of this film is also incredible. Firstly, we learn a bit about the school’s foundation and that one of the founders Salazar Slytherin built the Chamber Of Secrets and placed a monster inside, which Harry and Ron later discover is a basilisk; a monster that can petrify anything/body if one looks it in the eye. However, it turns out that none of the victims looked at the creature indirectly. Harry points out Mrs Norris (Argus Filch’s cat) saw the basilisk’s reflection through water leakage, Colin Creevey used his camera, Justin Finchly saw the basilisk through one of the ghosts and Hermione used a mirror, and because the basilisk is a member of the snake family, it used the plumbing to get around the school. The snake obsession also links to the fact that Salazar Slytherin had the ability to talk to snakes, as does Harry. We find that out, during the duelling scene when Draco Malfoy casts a spell that creates a snake and Harry speaks a language known as parseltongue (also evident in The Philosopher’s Stone when Harry accidentally frees a snake from a zoo). The reason for Harry’s fluency in snake language is eventually revealed when Dumbledore tells him that Voldemort was also fluent in the language and passed the skill onto Harry when he attempted to kill him. And speaking of Voldemort, we find out about Voldemort’s history through his original alias as Tom Riddle, a name which first comes into context through an ancient enchanted diary.
I also ought to mention some of the character portrayals. Firstly, Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart is one of my favourite characters in the Harry Potter series. If Phil Hartman was still alive back then, I’d say he’d have been the right actor to portray Lockhart, though Kenneth Branagh did a great job. He’s one of my examples of a fictional celebrity; boastful, sleazy, fairly arrogant, creates a bit of cynicism among the staff, but also rather cowardly. There’s a scene where Professor McGonogal calls the faculty to the corridor to explain the Heir of Slytherin’s recent message in regards to a girl who’s been taken into the Chamber. Then Lockhart enters and is like; “so sorry, dozed off, what have I missed?”, which quite frankly cracks me up. Snape responds with the news and sarcastically points out how he learned that Lockhart knows, or at least guesses, where the entrance is. The next moment, Harry and Ron, who have listened in, seek Lockhart for support only to notice that he’s about to wuss out and they find out he’s a fraud. Lockhart also has a dark side; he apparently specialises in wiping other wizards’ memories. One other scene I truly enjoyed is when Lockhart fixes Harry’s arm, well sort of fixes it.
Dobby’s also a decent character. Controversially, he reminds me of Jar Jar Binks. He does mark an important contribution to the writing. He warns Harry not to go back to Hogwarts. It’s kinda obvious he knows that The Chamber Of Secrets is going to be opened and cause trouble, but he doesn’t say so, hence why Harry ignores his warnings. The next moment, when Harry is injured following a Quidditch match, Dobby confesses that he sealed the entrance to Platform 9.75 and tampered with one of the bludgers, which nearly killed Harry, but Dobby only intended for it to injure Harry, so he could be sent home and be safe from the dangers around the school. Through conversation, Dobby mentions that he’s a slave to a human family, later revealed to be the Malfoy family and boy, how abusive Lucius is towards the little guy, and that if he’s presented with proper clothes, he’ll be declared a free elf. Dobby’s basic motive is that he means well to Harry, but just happens to be fully over-protective of him. Harry does express his gratitude to him in the end and he does empathise with Dobby, but I just love the way he asks him to promise never to “save my life again”.
The Chamber Of Secrets signals Snape’s quite smaller role. However his appearance still makes an impact. When he first see him, he’s furious with Harry and Ron for using the car to get to the school. Never had I seen him so angry. Later we see him take part in a wizard’s duel with Lockhart as part of a demonstration for the newly formed duelling club, that being my favourite scene in the movie. I could definitely see Snape as Lockhart’s opponent; a, because he seems to enjoy fighting, b, because of his enduring rivalry with the Defence Against The Dark Arts teachers and c, because he’s always wanting to teach Defence Against The Dark Arts. Plus his Expelliamus spell is a spell which Harry soon picks up on, and despite his resentment towards Harry, Snape still cares for him, i.e. when he offers to get rid of the snake Malfoy creates through spell. And of course in a later scene, Snape points out to Lockhart “weren’t you saying last night that you’ve known all along where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is?”, another part of his cynicism towards the DATDA staff.
And let me address the obvious; the rip-offs. Firstly, there’s a flying car in the film. Never have I seen a car that flies before, except on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Joe 90, The Jetsons, The Man With The Golden Gun, Blade Runner, Back To the Future, Space Precinct, The Fifth Element and Flubber. But apart from that, very creative. Speaking of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have you noticed how the Weasley family live? – in an isolated windmill, with limited finances and magical gadgets? Much like the Potts family, innit?
Overall, despite the obvious rip-offs, occasionally clunky dialogue and the Dursleys’ very brief appearance, Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets, for me, not only beats the first Harry Potter film, but it is in fact my favourite movie from the franchise. And I admire it for John Williams’ kick-ass music, interesting characters and their traits, the story, but most of all, some of the most intelligent writing I have ever come across. With that said, The Chamber Of Secrets is a lot better than I remember it. Maybe I should’ve placed it as one of the ten films I am most proud to have seen at the cinema. Just consider it a number eleven I guess. Even though it’s advised that you watch the movies in chronological order, The Chamber Of Secrets is the one that got me invested the most.
Overall rating: 9/10
Next review: Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban