Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Rated PG

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint

out of

While sitting in the theater, watching Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, I felt like a kid again. Admittedly, I've gotten into the Harry Potter thing a little late, but I can see why it's such a phenomenon.

This time out, Harry and his friends confront a secret from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's past. The details are best left unsaid, because the joy of this film is discovering the twists and turns in the whodunit plot.

If the first film (Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone) had a problem, it was that it had a lot of explaining to do to set up the storyline of Hogwarts, wizardry, Harry's parents, and so on. The Chamber of Secrets is able to build on that set-up and get right to the action. If you were one of the people that thought the first film was a little too slow but still enjoyed the premise, Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets will allow you to see why the set-up was necessary. A lot of the action and interaction between characters makes references to things from the first film. (On the flip side, if you didn't see the first movie, you may want to rent it before tackling this one.)

While the Harry Potter movies and books may be perceived as being for kids, this film does its best to dismiss those allegations. It's darker in tone, scarier and a lot more, well, adult. That's not to say that you're going to see anything truly shocking in the film; it just means that this is a film that may frighten 5 year olds. It got a few jumps out of me. (And damn good ones too.)

This entry introduces a few new characters, including Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, a dashing and supposedly suave wizard, who comes to Hogwarts as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. His giddy performance is a real treat. The returning cast members, especially Daniel Radcliffe as Harry and Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, are just as good this time out as they were in the previous film. On a sad note, Richard Harris turned in his last performance ever as Professor Dumbledore. He'll be missed -- in the Harry Potter series and in other roles. He was one of the greats.

What I think I find truly special about the Harry Potter movies, especially this one, is that they bring a feeling of magic back to the movies. Just two films in to the proposed seven film series, there's a well-defined world populated with strongly defined characters with a sense of purpose. The stories do not seem to be written just to show off some gadgetry or new special effects techniques. The strength of the series is in the writing. The special effects and technical wizardry that dominate other films of this kind do not overshadow the characters and their storylines in the Harry Potter series. Some may grumble at the long running time (two and a half hours), but I think it allows the film to breathe and allows the filmgoer to savor the world it has created.

Let's hope that the third film, which is to be directed by Alfonso Cuaron of Y tu Mama Tambien fame, is just as magical and fun.

Trivia: The punchline for the "Japanese golfer" joke told by Uncle Vernon that Harry Potter ruins is actually quite vulgar and not at all appropriate for young children or mixed company. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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