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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Reviewed by Falstaff

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or Kids Who Break Rules Part II, as I like to call it, was, much like the first Harry Potter movie, highly anticipated. And with good reason, as the successes of the first installment of J. K. Rowling’s series on the big screen is undoubtable.

The first good point about this movie is that it is by far more unified and linear, unlike the rather episodic Sorcerer’s Stone. The unraveling of the mystery of the Chamber is not lost in-between choppy introductory and expositionary scenes. The thematic material – prejudice within the wizarding world – is dealt with firmly without too much sermonizing.

The second improvement over the first movie is the visual effects. 2002 marked the invasion of quality CG characters into moviemaking with three characters: Yoda, Gollum, and, in the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby the House-Elf. Although Dobby is not as impressive as Gollum animationwise, he is still a memorable addition to the movie, and Toby Jones’ voice acting is superb.

After Dobby, the next best visual improvements are the wand spell effects. The wizard duels between Slith and Lockhart and Harry and Draco Malfoy are beautifully done – the spell blasts are visually original, and each one is completely different from the others. All of the minor spells are improved as well, even down to Hermione’s glasses-repairing spell.

The creatures of the Chamber of Secrets are also great, whether they are puppets, like the Baby Mandrake Roots and Fawkes the Phoenix, or CG, like the Cornish Pixies and the Basilisk. Probably the best in the movie are the spiders that chase Harry and Ron in the Dark Forest. The spiders were incredibly creepy and very realistic, definitely some of the best spiders I have ever seen in a movie. Indeed, the spiders and the Basilisk are so frightening, one wonders if the special effects people forgot that they were making a children’s movie! Other additions, such as the Whomping Willow and the Howler, a screaming letter from Ron’s mother, make for a very visually stunning visual experience.

John Williams’ music is, of course, perfect. Familiar themes and new ones combine to make a soundtrack that is memorable and, like the first movie, charming.

The action sequences in this movie are all an improvement over the first. The wizard duels, as already mentioned, are stunning, and the chase scenes in the Dark Forest are exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat sequences. Harry’s battle with the Basilisk is well done, combining CG and live-action seamlessly. And of course, every scene involving the Weasley’s flying car is fun.

The entire returning cast is, as expected, excellent, and makes the movie what it is to a much higher degree than any of the special effects. Again, without the superb casting, the Harry Potter movies would not be nearly as believable or magical as they are.

All of the child actors are much more mature as actors, and act more naturally in front of the camera. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) work much better as an ensemble, instead of stealing scenes from each other (as Watson tended to do sometimes in the Sorcerer’s Stone). Grint overdoes Ron’s cowardly scenes a bit, but otherwise, the three have grown into their characters much more. Of special note is Tom Felton, who really plays the snide and vicious Draco Malfoy exponentially better than in the first move.

The veteran cast, already superb, is improved even more by two major additions. Kenneth Branagh plays the vain Professor Gilderoy Lockhart with his usual relish and panache, in a style reminiscent of his portrayal of Hamlet. Anther stroke of genius on the part of the casting department, for sure. The second major addition is Jason Isaacs, who takes the role of Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father, and creates a truly villanous character. Isaacs’ performance of the arrogant and ire-filled wizard makes Draco Malfoy look like Winnie the Pooh in comparison.

Other excellent casting moves are Mark Williams and Julie Walters as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. These two fine actors portray the humorous Weasley parents fantastically well, and make for good patrons of the Weasley family.

The Chamber of Secrets is a fairly dark movie, and parents should take the PG rating seriously – more so than the first movie in the series, with scarier creatures and violence, and some mild language. It is also, like the first movie, very long, finally wrapping up at two-and-a-half hours.

On the whole, the makers of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have created another entertaining fantasy film that movie lovers will love for years to come. Hopefully, the rest of J. K. Rowling’s series will be as well done on the big screen as the first two.

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