Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the next chapter in our journey through J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. The film is called Chamber of Secrets regardless of country, which entails Warner Bros. must have thought us foolish Americans smart enough to know what a Chamber was, instead of calling it a room or a dungeon, or something like that.
I’ve always paired Chamber of Secrets and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone together for some reason or another, almost because I think of them as the calm before the storm of the Harry Potter series. The film sees Chris Columbus reprise his role as director for a final time and largely feels the same as its predecessor both tonally and thematically, offering a light, more laid-back adventure film than what’d soon come next. The Chamber of Secrets brings back our familiar cast of characters, including Richard Harris’ final performance as Professor Albus Dumbledore before his unfortunate death the same year as its worldwide release. The film also sees the addition of characters like actor Kenneth Branagh playing the role of Gilderoy Lockhart, a famous Wizard writer known for his adventures against numerous mythical creatures, who accepts the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor after their last instructor was revealed to be carrying a Voldemort-shaped abscess on the back of his head.
The film received a positive reception from critics and movie-fans alike, but while it remained an enormous worldwide box-office phenomenon in its own right, it wasn’t able to match the same box-office returns of its predecessor, falling shy of 900 million worldwide.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets follows its titular hero back at the Dursleys home, where he has received no letters from his friends made at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This, he learns, is because a house elf named Dobby has been meddling in his fares, trying everything he can to keep Harry from returning to the magic school. No matter, as Harry’s vigilance procures his entry into the school, running into a lot of trouble along the way. It’s clear someone doesn’t want Harry to return to Hogwarts, but it isn’t clear for what reason.
The kinetic speed I felt from Sorcerer’s Stone in the early-going feels largely remedied this time around. What’s happening is fast, but it doesn’t necessarily feel rushed. Instead, it feels like we’re trimming the fat, so-to-speak. This is a sequel’s benefit, above all else, and it isn’t squandered. The film isn’t dealt the hand of having to introduce the world and is able to start off in the thick of it.
I mentioned that Chamber of Secrets was the last film before a stark departure with The Prisoner of Azkaban, but one would be remiss if they thought Chamber of Secrets isn’t a darker film than Sorcerer’s Stone, because it absolutely is. The writing is on the walls for that – and it’s written in blood.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a better film than The Sorcerer’s Stone, and that fact echoes beyond its pacing and maturer thematic elements. The film has a more confident direction, with scenes flowing more seamlessly and with more narrowed intent. Although I wouldn’t call The Sorcerer’s Stone frivolous necessarily, I would say that Chamber of Secrets is more taut and organic in the way it approaches itself, its world, and the characters living within it. The actors, particularly the younger cast, have only improved since their last outing, and the rest of the cast only feels more realized in their characters as well.
The special-effects have aged well. They were top-notch in their year of release and the films were shot well enough that many discrepancies will be missed by casual-viewers. Certain scenes, such as when the CGI is brought into the light during Quidditch bouts, can make the green-screens further apparent, but I never found it took me out of the film. I feel the Harry Potter series as a whole mostly missed the uncomfortable period before and after the turn of the millennium that plagued a lot of popular series’, the initial Star Wars prequels, I think, are a standout example of that. Aside from the mere technique and craftsmanship, the imaginative world and decor conceived in the the Harry Potter films and, more specifically, in Chamber of Secrets, remain enthralling and wonderful, with no other film series managing to capture the same charm.
Director Chris Columbus does a skilled job at not only adapting a faithful adaptation to the Harry Potter novel, but accomplishing so with new cinematic and dramatic depth. It’s the little added oomph and flare that accomplishes something in Chamber of Secrets that I wouldn’t say was failed at with Sorcerer’s Stone, but is something I think is improved on in its sequel. What was a faithful adaptation of the first book and an enjoyable film to boot, feels more like a more seamless integration into cinematic world.
The second installment in the Harry Potter series is a splendidly imaginative film and a lot of fun, offering at least a hairline improvement of Sorcerer’s Stone. The characters and the world feel more realized, and the looming threat we’ve been spoon-fed feels foreboding and ever-present.