Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Stars:    Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman
Director:   Chris Columbus
Screenwriter:   Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling

A mysterious evil force is petrifying the students at Hogwart’s School of Magic and Wizardry, literally turning them to stone. Will whiz of a wizard Harry Potter save the day … again? You bet!

This second installment in the movie adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is delightful fun and as good as the first film. That’s saying a lot when it comes to sequels these days. Most don’t hold a candle to their originals. This one’s also a bit darker which may serve the older crowd better.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry’s about to begin his second year at the magic school, but nasty uncle Vernon is against it and has Harry locked in his room. Then one day, a mischievous and adorable little house elf named Dobby appears in Harry’s room to warn him that terrible danger awaits him at Hogwarts. Despite the warning, Harry escapes captivity when best pal Ron Weasley picks him up in the family’s flying car, and off to school they go. They once again join forces with Griffendor clans-mate Hermione and do battle anew with their ever blonde antagonist, Draco Malfoy of Slytherin House.

But, soon after arrival Harry hears voices and sees warnings written in blood that the school’s mysterious Chamber of Secrets has been “reopened” causing a sinister creature to be set free to attack the students. Unless the culprit can be found, the wizardry school is doomed to closure. After Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), the friendly giant groundskeeper, is accused and Professor Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris) is dismissed by the school board, Harry, Ron, and Hermione search for clues as to who or what opened the Chamber.

The best thing about the Potter tale, once again, is the marvelous and quite magical production design. As before the school’s dining room is enchanted with floating lighted candles and ghosts whizzing through the food trays. The school, both inside and out, is fraught with lovely design intricacies. This time around special mention goes to the creation of Dobby the computer-generated house elf. He looks great, has a good voice and is a pretty fair actor, too. The Weasley’s family flying car is as fun as the family home is imaginative with delightful wizardry touches like dishes washing themselves.

In smaller but repeating roles are Maggie Smith as stern but fair Professor McGonagall, Alan Rickman as slithery Professor Snape and John Cleese as ghostly Nearly Headless Nick. New this year are Julie Walters as the slightly flabbergasted Mrs. Weasley, Ron’s mom, a good witch in her own right, Jason Isaacs, equally blonde as Draco’s conniving father. Kenneth Branagh appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself playing the new, utterly narcissistic but peculiarly cowardly Defense of the Dark Arts instructor Gilderoy Lockhart. Miriam Margolyes is spiffy as Professor Sprout, the botanist who teaches marvelous spell-breaking lessons using “mandrakes”, odd shrieking potato head looking plants.

Lotta says: At first I thought the familiarity of the first movie was going to kill this one, but after the first 20-minutes or so, the plot picks up and we’re moving along for another fun ride. It’s satisfactory Potter fare. No disappointments here.

Reviewed 11/22/02