Witch and wizard and yes, even us muggles are all happily welcomed back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with open arms for another year of sensational magic to be learned. But not all witches and wizards are treated the same – there are those generational purebloods with their elitist attitudes that believe anyone who isn’t pure doesn’t belong at school learning magic. And those discriminatory folks aren’t afarid to hide their cruel and vile remarks from those around them. But not all pureblood families are the same, and returning writer Steve Kloves emphasizes the differences in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Early on in Chamber of Secrets the villainous characters wear their discrimination on their sleeves – its painted on their face and can be seen in the way they hold their bodies and how they dress. Year 2 at Hogwarts for the boy who lived Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is filled with new challenges to overcome both personally and for the sake of the wizarding world at large. For one, when the Chris Columbus directed sequel opens up, Harry is once again isolated from the magic world by his bigoted Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling).
But that’s not the challenge – Harry is visited by a house elf named Dobby (Toby Jones) who warns Harry that Hogwarts will be in grave danger this year and that Dobby insists that Harry not return to his home. Dobby even goes so far to drop the dessert on the Dursley’s guests heads causing Vernon to barricade Harry within his room. Even Hedwig is trapped in her cage – unable to stretch her wings and deliver letters to Harry’s friends. Any sign of danger with the level of these warnings would make anyone listen but not Harry – Hogwarts is truly his home and being a wizard is a chance to escape from the harsh reality of living with muggles.
Before getting back to the castle, the story takes a brief pause at the Weasley house after Ron and his twin older brothers Fred and George (James & Oliver Phelps) free Harry in the families flying car. Matriarch Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) was furious at the boys (not Harry) for empty beds and not leaving a note. Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) on the other hand is fascinated by how the car handled the trip. It’s not the reaction to the car being temporarily taken that matters in the makeup of this scene, it’s the juxtaposition between the burrow and the Dursley household – one house being full of love, warmness and magic and the other devoid of happiness and comfort.
Like Harry who wouldn’t see the brilliance the Weasley house possess? The practical effects of a cast iron skillet being magically washed or a clock that in lieu of telling time has its hands pointing to where each member of the family is at any moment (my favorite is mortal peril) creates the dazzling display of magic that the mundane would instantly be envious of.
However, being the title Chamber of Secrets, the majority of the plot takes place within the historic castles walls. Kloves screenplay follows the 1998 novel of the same name by J. K. Rowling faithfully, cutting a narrative corner here and there for the sake of the film and furthering the expansion of the mythology Rowling invented. Centering around Harry and his exploration of powers, the wizards popularity takes an unfavorable turn when it’s found out during a dueling club that Harry is a Parselmouth, meaning he can communicate with snakes. To Harry’s surprise not many witches and wizards can speak this language – only those associated with dark magic in the Salazar Slytherin bloodline can do so.
The house-elf’s warnings ring true – the castle is under attack by an unknown monster who lives in the fabled ‘Chamber of Secrets’. Throughout the film, characters are petrified by the monster striking those who are enemies of the heir of Salazar Slytherin. Because Harry can speak Parseltongue, the entire school suspects him and professors like Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) fear the worst. Not to worry as long as headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) is around, Hogwarts has a fighting chance with those loyal to him.
Following Sorcerer’s Stone, majority of the ensemble cast return, giving a sense of community and lived-in chemistry to this hidden world (even If some of them don’t like each other). After being stopped by Harry, the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts needed to be filled – in comes the arrogant and smug celebrity author Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) to fill the position. Branagh’s addition to the cast fits in like a puzzle piece while the returning cast are finding nuances in their characters personalities.
While Chamber of Secrets color palate and tone are muted and darker, Lockhart’s personality brightens up the castle through Branagh’s performance. Elsewhere, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson continue to be front and center, fully capturing their novel counterparts – the three remind us why they were chosen for these prestigious roles and the latter two (Grint and Watson) look more comfortable in their second film. Another newcomer to the world and the cast is Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), father of school rival and bully Draco (Tom Felton) who takes on the elitist personification and runs with it.
The Malfoy family and what they stand for is truly evil – especially how they view and treat nonhuman species.
For all the melodrama playing out, Hogwarts is not without its main draw to the school year – Quidditch. The action sequence of Gryffindor versus Slytherin pushes the pace into high gear, dazzling dozens of feat off the ground. Columbus took the Quidditch scene from Sorcerer’s Stone and turned up the drama. Two rival houses fighting for bragging rights and with Harry playing Seeker for Gryffindor and Malfoy seeker for Slytherin, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Cinematographer Roger Pratt’s camera movements are smooth in their transitions from one player to the next as they zoom by in pursuit of the golden snitch.
What Sorcerer’s Stone gets right; The Chamber of Secrets furthers the confidence in bringing the beloved book series to a new medium. The ensemble cast is truly impressive, John Williams provides another remarkable score, the practical and visual effects make the magic attainable for us nonmagical folk and the tone is darker, more mature and full of grave and dangerous stakes. Bravery in the face of danger and courage to do whats right remains the main themes of the series as it shifts into darker territory.
Screenplay By: Steve Kloves
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Music By: John Williams
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters
Where to Watch: Max
Edited By: Peter Honess
Release Date: November 15, 2002
Running Time: 2 Hours 41 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Based On: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling