Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter: The Saga (Uncle Cliff)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Uncle Cliff)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Uncle Cliff)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Uncle Cliff)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Uncle Cliff)
After reading Chamber of Secrets I was left with the uneasy feeling that the Harry Potter series may turn into some Scooby Doo ‘monster of the week' type scenario, where in every book there would be a new scary mystery at the school that Harry Potter and his school friend detectives would have to solve (you can almost imagine Snape being led away by Dementors screaming “I would have got away with it too, if it wasn't for you magical brats and that damn meddling house-elf!”). I feared that every year at Hogwartz would bring a new adventure and mystery that would be a joyous read, but not feature much in way of a larger story arc.
Of course I was delightfully wrong about that, and in hindsight the book has a whole lot more to offer the series than just a weak monster of the week, yet Chamber of Secrets is still my least favourite of the Harry Potter books.
The story of this second book/film is primarily about Harry discovering the shocking similarities between himself and his evil nemesis, the murderer of his parents – Lord Voldemort. We really delve into the past for the first time in Chamber , something that becomes increasingly important as the Potter series goes on, as we discover Voldemort was once a student at Hogwartz and very much like Harry, and with very similar powers, and the film hints at a darkness in Harry that explains why his and Voldemort's fate is inexorably entwined.
Of course there's other things happening at Hogwartz this year. Quidditch. Some first crushes. A new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher (the last one turned out to be hiding He Who Shall Not Be Named in the back of his skull, the bastard) is also at the school, and it's celebrity wizard Gilderoy Lockheart, hot off the heels of promoting his newest book filled with his faux-adventures. Kenneth Branagh is superb as the flamboyant coward and despite the haters I think the kids have all got a whole lot better and now have the hang of this film-making thing, with Rupert Grint particularly having found his stride and some great comic timing as the goofy but lovable Ron.
The other main adult addition to the cast is Jason Issacs as Lucious Malfoy, who introduces himself with such venomous aplomb that I'm already itching to see him reappear down the track in the latter films. Of course this film also contains what many people consider to be Harry Potter 's Jar Jar Binks in Dobby, the house elf. Personally I find him about as annoying as I think you're meant to, but he's nowhere near as bad as fucking Jar Jar. Sadly these new characters leave a smaller portion of the film's running time to the already established cast, especially Rickman's Snape, whose slimy snarl is still great no matter how infrequently it crops up.
I actually found that a lot of what I found to be stagnant pages of exposition work much better on the screen than I would have imagined. It's a big call, and one I maybe should hold back on until I have actually re-read the book again, but I would just about say that I enjoyed the movie more. Cue gasps. Could I be the first ever person in the world to say “Actually, the film's better, you know”?
Columbus is again solid, if slightly more uninspiring here than in Philosopher's Stone , although perhaps it just seems that way because he had already set the visual status quo for the school and the Potter world and could relax a bit more here. It's a touch disappointing then that he hangs up his Harry Potter director boots on such a dud final note, with a cliché ridden end scene where Hagrid returns from his false imprisonment in the wizard jail of Azkaban to be greeted by a standing ovation from the whole school. Warm and fuzzy feelings all round then. Um, what exactly did Hagrid do, other than be falsely imprisoned, to deserve such respect? It maybe deserves some sympathetic pat on the back, but a standing ovation? Puh-leaze. I never really invested in the whole ‘Hagrid is the heart of the series' thing as much as they liked pushing it in these first few adaptations.
While Columbus served this series well in setting the world up with two very solid adaptations, this scene more than anything spells out exactly why he needed to remove himself from the project once the kids started to stop being kids. Harry Potter is about to get darker and darker and there's no room for someone who feels the need to cram these fluffy moments in just to lighten things out.
Chamber might be the one that doesn't quite fit in with the larger picture, but this isn't to say it's not important in the grand scheme of the Potter mythology. In fact some major plot points from this book were just given a new meaning in Rowling's recent addition to the series in The Half Blood Prince , and I think the Chamber of Secrets still has a few secrets left in it's…chamber…to be revealed in Rowling's final Harry Potter book.