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Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets
(Widescreen Edition)

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: PG (Scary Moments, Some Creature Violence and Mild Language)

Running Time: 161 minutes

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay by: Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by: J.K. Rowling

Directed by: Chris Columbus

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $26.99

Features:
Disc 1: Year One At Hogwarts, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew

Disc 2: Additional Scenes, Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves, Dumbledore's Office, Interviews with Students, Professors & More, Gallery of Production Sketches, Activities, Spellcaster Knowledge, Photo Gallery, Certificates, Required Reading, Game Preview, DVD-ROM Trailer. DVD-ROM: Extra Credit

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (37 Scenes), Two Disc Set

Released: April 11th, 2003

 

 

It's already been a few years, but the Harry Potter phenom simply won't die down. Even though it is a given that the books will be popular until the end of time and will go down as classic children's literature (okay, maybe "fantasy literature" is a better term since the fanbase reaches all ages), kids and adults can't seem to get enough of a certain boy wizard and his magical adventures. And as I write this, the fifth book (of seven) is due to hit stores in less than three months after a near three-year hiatus on the literary scene. While people may say J.K. Rowling has lost some of her fans by making them wait so long for the next installment and because of that the power of her protagonist has died down, it's actually quite the opposite. Besides all her fans are anticipating the fifth book (the longest one yet - and you die-hards quit your whining, being a writer myself I understand Rowling wanting to create the best possible final product so she doesn't disappoint you), she gained a whole new fan base in the past three years as the books kept selling and selling, a whole heap of merchandise hit and there was a little film adaptation you might be familiar with entitled "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which grossed over 300 million dollars in North America (and became the top grossing film of the year) and once held the record for the highest gross in an opening weekend (that is, until a certain webslinger came along).

If there's one thing you can guarantee in Hollywood, it's that franchises (NOT sequels) never fail and will always be profitable in some way (though there are probably a few exceptions to that rule). Given good old Harry's built-in fan base from his books, there was no way in hell that a series of movies based on those very books could fail. And with seven stories in total, doesn't that sound appealing to any studio CEO? A long running franchise to help define a studio's earnings and be a cash cow that would lead to billions in the long run? It's simple, really. For some reason people can't resist popular book adapatations. They know the story but they need to see it visualized anyway.

So exactly a year after "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" made a giant splash in the movie world, its sequel "Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets" made its grand debut. Pretty damn quick, right? I suppose it all comes down to boosting profits, generating a special kind of excitment and keeping people hooked in the franchise. The sequel didn't exactly suffer the usual sophomore slump. Yes, it made a bit less than the first movie in North America, but that was to be expected. Besides the fact that it is a rare case when a sequel makes more than the original film, the excitment and hype of Harry Potter films died down. Anyone can tell you that November 2001 created "Star Wars"-like mania when the first movie opened. Still, the movie was a little longer and it's opening weekend gross was on par with the first movie. Harry Potter and his Hogwarts chums were here to stay.

For the seven or eight of you unfamiliar with the plot to this sequel, here goes: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) goes back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a second year, despite mysterious warnings not to go by an annoying house elf named Dobby. Even though there are attempts to get him out of Hogwarts, Harry's challenges become greater when students are mysteriously being turned into stone at the school and creepy messages are being left on the walls at Hogwarts. As Harry and his pals Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) make their own assumptions, it really all comes down to the boy who lived to discover the mysteries of an old diary and make his beloved school safe once again.

Critically is where the second installment did better than the first. Even though I was puzzled by some critics giving slightly lower marks to the second film but saying it was better than the first, most did give it much higher marks than the first and agreed it was a much more solid entry that was also a bit darker in nature. I sincerely disagree on those accounts. I wouldn't call the movie a "vast improvement" or more sinsiter in tone. I found it to be on the same exact level as the first movie.

I must admit that before seeing the second movie, I did read the book so it was fresh in my mind. And yes, being a fan of the books (so far I've only read the first two, though I'm sure that will change as the next movies in the series are released) I couldn't help but make my comparisons. But when it all comes down to it, "Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets" suffers the same problem I had with the first movie: there are a lack of details.

Steve Kloves once again did the adapatation, and for the most part he does a decent job. It is an impressive feat to cram so much plot into a nearly three-hour film, not to mention that it's really not as cluttered as you'd expect. Still, I find that Kloves' approach to the screenplay isn't to create the most cohesive experience possible, but rather, stick in the main portions and moments from the book while changing a few key things around in the slightest ways. It is almost as if the movie is a "best of" compilation of the book.

The second story in the Harry Potter series is a bit more complex than the first, and as a result, this makes the adapatation a little bit more annoying. Once again, you're expected to come in and know all the little things from J.K. Rowling's second novel. Even worse, you're expected to come in and know all the things from the first story. Despite the millions of kids who have read the books and seen the movie, there are still some people - mainly parents - who are not familiar with Harry's first adventure. Those who come into this movie will have no idea what's going on. They won't know any background on the characters, what happened in the first movie or really get a whole sense of the magic thing. Couldn't a few lines make reference to what happened at Hogwarts a year earlier? A little recap on what Quidditch is? A few details on Harry's past? It's something that I really shouldn't be complaining about, but it is annoying. While not all sequels reference their predecessors, most are at least wise enough to set up the characters and ideals in some way again. Obviously, the filmmakers didn't realize that this was a movie. And with a movie, they should have aimed to try and reach everyone and EXPLAIN some additional things as much as they could. In this movie, the plot gets under way in full swing - which is fine. While the first film was mainly setup, there really should have been some setup here. It's a shame if you ask me.

But back to the details. So many little things are omitted or aren't explained. Like the first one, you really need to have read the books to get a true feel of the universe and know all the tiny things - tiny things that are crucial to the saga and the characters. Yes, the story is Harry's story... but everyone knows that what makes Rowling's universe so rich are all the supporting details and the supporting characters. I would have loved to see more of The Burrow (the Weasley household) and certainly I would have liked to see a whole lot more of Gilderoy Lockhart. In the movie, the character seems tacked on whereas in the book he was perfectly integrated. Lockhart comes across sorta vain in the movie, but you get what a coward and asshole he is in the actual novel.

I could go on and on, but I think I'll pinpoint a few more things. There's not much of Harry's family, the Durselys in this one and you don't get exactly how mean they are like in the book or even in the first movie. Major sequences were cut out (the Dead Party was a great part of the book), but what I found most annoying was the flashback involving Tom Riddle and Hagrid. The sequence is entirely dumbed down and made very simple. It's actually hard to tell if Hagrid got expelled originally or if he did not (even if the first movie made no reference whatsoever that he once went to Hogwarts). Hagrid isn't explored as much as he was in the novel - not that he had a major role in the second book in the first place. It is also not clear that someone actually died at the school (that apparently led to Hagrid's expulsion). Hagrid's role (and details about the character) in the films so far has been a bit akward. Though I will give points to the filmmakers since Harry actually calls his owl BY NAME this time (Hedwig).

Like many, I wasn't exactly a big fan of Chris Columbus' work in the first movie. It was suitable, but it was nothing extraordinary. Yes, he takes helm for the second time around and while he has slightly improved, I still think his direction lacks the warmth of the books. Columbus seems more intent on making a film on a bigger, bolder scale. Columbus himself says the sequel is much darker than the first, but I still only really see the climatic battle as only slightly dark.

Columbus tries to make the action-packed moments filled with much more action. Yes, the final battle shows inspirations from "North By Northwest" and has a bit more fighting and running around than the book had. The flying car scene toward the start of the movie is a bit more suspensful when Harry almost falls out (that didn't happen in the book). The big Quidditch game also has its modfications, as it tries to build more upon Harry's rivarly with Draco Malfoy. Oddly and disappointing enough, one of my favorite scenes from the book, the action-filled Dueling Club is trimmed quite a lot and barely involves the students. Columbus doesn't do anything to really enchance the sequel or set it apart from the first movie. His direction is still a bit bland and his pacing is still rather off.

Now that I'm done complaining with my main gripes, everything else is smooth sailing. The editing is well-rounded and the special effects are a major improvement over the first film. Many complained about the Quidditch match in "Sorcerer's Stone," but here the special effects look so much better and are more seamless - it does look a bit more real. But everything's not perfect with the special effects. The CGI letter that screams at Ron and some of the flying car portions looked a bit cheesy to me. On a much better note though, John Williams once again composes a catchy, perfectly reflective score that feels like a true continuation of his original compositions from "Sorcerer's Stone." How does Williams do it?

The ensemble of actors once again do a fantastic job. Daniel Radcliffe, who was criticized heavily for the first movie, is a more natural performer this time around. He's a bit more intense and certainly more convincing as Potter (and certainly not as stiff). Emma Watson and Rupert Grint once again work their acting magic as Hermoine and Ron, bringing the same mannerisms and expressions to characterize their roles that worked so well in the first film. The kids, while a bit more mature (Radcliffe and Grint have deeper voices), once again do a great job.

The adult actors are also excellent, but it's a bit disappointing how they are not as featured as much as I would have liked to. Maggie Smith was quite good again as Professor McGonagall, while Miriam Margoyles made a decent Sprout despite her tiny role (but Warwick Davis gets no love with no lines to say as Flitwick). Alan Rickman was on the verge of stealing the show again, but there was too little of him to do so. He's so wonderfully wicked as Snape, it's a shame there wasn't more of him in the film. Kenneth Branagh was also great as Lockhart, but again, there wasn't much to show of him since his character is ultimately tacked on.

There's also Jason Isaacs as Draco's father. His devilish smirk and force of evil he cooly shows off is nothing short of perfection. He brings the perfect tone and intimidating force the character holds without overdoing it. Finally, there's the late Richard Harris. He will surely be missed as Dumbledore. He once again brings a fine sweetness to the role, but you can tell how sick he was during the production of the film. His grand voice in the first film is more like a gentle whisper here. Nonetheless, it's another fine supporting performance from the late actor.

In the end, "Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets" certainly lives up to the first movie. But depending on your point of view, that is either a good thing or a bad thing. While I found it to be just SLIGHTLY better than the original, it's superiority is so subtle. As a result, I don't have a preference between the two films. It is enjoyable and works for the most part - it's just not as superior as you might have been led to believe. While the kiddies are sure to eat it up and be entertained, here's hoping that Alfonso Cuaron's vision of Rowling's universe (he is directing the third film, due in summer 2004 all things considering recent set damage doesn't delay the production) lives up to her wonderful novels.

 

This widescreen edition of the movie (full screen is also available in case you or your family prefer that) is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks pretty solid for the most part, but it is also a bit disappointing. While it is a slight improvement in comparison to the transfer of the first movie, it actually does suffer many of the same problems the "Sorcerer's Stone" image had. The image is a bit grainy and can be a bit soft at times, yet the print itself is also a bit dirty with dirt pieces, blemishes, nicks and the like - I found that to be rather distracting. There is also edge enhancment, some shimmering and quite a bit of noise all over.

Despite the flaws, the transfer is rather pleasing overall. The variety of colors look bold and are nicely saturated. Black levels are strong, detail is superb and fleshtones are nearly flawless. The image can look pretty sharp at times too. Still, I felt the image could have used some ironing out. Maybe the third time will be the charm, Harry?

 

Just like last time, you get an English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track (a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is also available on the disc) that is rather strong. First off, the mix is even in its design which means none of the sounds get cluttered. One might expect this to happen given all that happens within the movie and how much action there can be, but you can always easily hear the dialogue, music and sound effects (that is definitely a plus). Also, one might expect the sound design and mixing to be similar to the first movie, and that expectation is correct (and no, that's not a bad thing).

The dialogue is incredibly clear and quite crisp which is very nice, while John Williams' powerful, triumphant score nicely brims with sweet mixing through the channels. Still, the surround effects do shine quite nicely from all the small ones to all the major ones. The climatic battle is quite discrete, powerful and razor sharp which did put me in the middle of the somewhat intense action. The other major action scenes do pack strong punches which might help some to get more involved within the film. Yep, that's right - the dueling club, spider scene and flying car ride to Hogwarts (plus its aftermath with the tree) as well as others sound pretty spectacular within the mix. The smaller surrounds (like Dobby bouncing on the bed, stairs creaking and hitting on Harry's closet) also sound quite distinct and true. Subwoofer use is quite good, and in all, this is a very engaging mix that should please Potter fans of all ages. Also included are subtitles in English, French and Spanish as well as English closed captions via your television set.

 

Last year around this time I bitched and bitched and bitched about the DVD of the first film. Remember that thing? A lot of you probably touched the extra features just once since you couldn't stand the fact of solving annoying puzzles over and over again. Many criticized the craziness that DVD featured, and thankfully, it seems Warner Bros. did listen to all the complaints. While I wouldn't call this DVD a very in-depth experience on the movie itself, I'm glad the whole main puzzle interface has been removed and there are much more substantial extras this time around for all Potter fans to enjoy (though maybe there should have been a Richard Harris tribute... just a section).

Given that the first disc holds the rather long feature, the extras there are minimal. You'll find your usual, pointless Cast & Crew listing (it still puzzles me why Warner puts this feature on many of their DVDs and bills it an extra feature - these listings don't even have biographies or filmographies), the original full Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround sound plus Year One At Hogwarts, which is more or less a trailer for the first movie (this is a decent recap for parents and those who didn't bother to see the original, but I still say my comments about the feature regarding a prelude to what happened are valid) but has the logo for the sequel slapped on at the end. Strange. This is also presented in anamorphic widescreen and English Dolby Surround sound.

Then it's off to disc two, where we have the bulk of our goodies. Probably the heart of the extras is (once again) the Additional Scenes section. You get nineteen of these puppies, and they all vary in length, quality and how they add on to the film. Most are actually extended scenes (and these extensions didn't help sway my opinion about the movie), but it seems the cut material are the best scenes in this nice virtual gallery (and you can select them one by one or play them all). My favorite scene here and one that probably should have been kept in the main feature? The introduction of the Malfoys in the shop, just like it was in the book (Jason Isaacs really rocks!). Still, if you liked the movie than all of these are least going through once. To be honest, I probably would have preferred a branching feature for these scenes. Oh well, do enjoy (the scenes add up to a little under eighteen minutes). And on another note, the quality of the scenes are excellent. 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Surround, baby!

"Behind Hogwarts" is compromised of four items. The first was definitely my favorite, and that would be the Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves. Here the screenwriter and novelist sit together to discuss the work and creating the screenplay (Liz Mzimba interviews them). This will surely appear to older, film obsessed people (like myself) as the two discuss the adaption process. There are some funny moments between the two, and it's interesting to hear Kloves' approach in writing the scripts since he doesn't always know where things are going as far as future installments of Rowling's novels. There's a good focus on characters and writing as a whole here. I really loved this, and I wish the two actually sat to do a commentary. It lasts about sixteen minutes.

Dumbledore's Office is actually made up of two features. The "Build A Scene" is a somewhat lengthy featurette (lasting about seventeen minutes) where you can take a look at how one scene is constructed and how complex it can be. Behind-the-scenes footage, film clips stills and interviews with producer David Heyman, director Chris Columbus, production designer Stuart Craig, special effects supervisor John Richardson, cinematographer Roger Pratt, create effects designer Nick Dudman, hair designer Eithine Fennell, the costume designer, make-up designer Amanda Knight, editor Peter Honess and John Williams himself. This can be enjoyed by kids and adults, as it is simple in how it is presented but is also quite interesting. There's a strong emphasis on design and then layering all the elements on to make it complete. I was quite intriguiged and fascinated how the big picture does come together. Very strong stuff here! Then you can tour Dumbledore's Office which is a filmed 3-D clip of sorts and there is some narration that opens the segment and for some parts of the office.

Interviews with Students, Professors & More. The actors who play the students talk about their own experiences with the movie as far as their characters, their acting expertise, favorite scenes, how they get along, if making movies is fun and a little more. The professors, that being the adult actors, get their own sections and talk about their own experiences working on the movie. They can be a bit fluffy, but most of these interviews are fun and are worth going through. They also each feature behind-the-scenes footage sometimes and film clips. Oh, and the Gallery of Production Sketches is pretty self-explanatory and are pretty fun to look at as far as early designs, items, sets and more.

Activities are four games to play (The Chamber Challenge, The Forbidden Firest Challenge, Colin's Darkroom and Tour Diagon Alley) which are aimed for the kids and aren't really that hard. The tour of Diagon Alley though isn't really a game, but rather, an interface like Dumbledore's Office. Spellcaster Knowledge is just a trivia game with movie clips and questions pertaining to the film's story - easy as pie (mmm, pie!). In "Gilderoy Lockhart's Classroom," there are three things to check out. The first is a Photo Gallery of ridiculous photos of good old Gilderoy (and rightfully so if you're familiar with the character) with some fun narration. Next is Certificates which is more talking and slight visuals of background on Gilderoy while Required Reading is the same thing, but talks about the books he wrote. It's somewhat fun to watch once (though it is pretty funny when the narrator shouts "GET OFF ME! GET OFF ME!" in the last section).

There's also a Game Preview which is just to advertise the game (why not make more money for the franchise?) where you can view six scant clips of the game. There's also a DVD-ROM Trailer to get you hyped up for the DVD-ROM section.

...so on to that. The DVD-ROM portion features Extra Credit, and you can catch a video preview of it even. So what magic goodies do you get here? Kiddie stuff basically, but I enjoyed some of it. You can do the voice command and navigate the DVD with your own words, check out some weblinks, play some game challenges, download trading cards, print cut-outs, check out a Harry Potter timeline, download screen savers and even play a demo of the second computer game - which is of course based on the movie and book. Have fun here!

 

While many found this Harry Potter sequel more satisfying than the original, I'll let you be the judge on which you like better. I will say though that this DVD is an improvement when compared to the first movie, but not by much. I did find the sound mix slightly stronger, the transfer a little bit nicer looking and the extras are much more in-depth (with a much better interface thankfully!). I still think though that all of these things could have improved. But like the first one, it won't matter what I say because this movie is sure to join nearly every DVD library out there. Maybe things will improve when the third film finally hits DVD, but anyway, if you enjoyed the movie or have a family member that liked it, then there's no use ignoring the hype so buckle down and just buy it already.