When Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out in 2002 the young me was super excited and I was not disappointed. Again I felt like the filmmakers had created a wonderful version of the story of their own, which I enjoyed re-watching again and again. Storywise I think it works perfectly, like part 1, however I feel there are some small staging choices I would now in hindsight have liked to seen differently.
I can’t really say there is a lot to complain about. At all. In general all the Harry Potter films have been made to such a high standards, that fans of the books (like me) could not have asked for anything more from an adaptation. But I do enjoy looking back on the films now with a scriptwriting/filmmaking mind and adding some observations I didn’t notice when watching for the first 20 times – or mention something that has been bugging me from the beginning 🙂 I think the criticism will get “stricter” with every film, because every film becomes more serious and darker and we go from a family film to a full-on blockbuster. So naturally the standards somehow increase with each film.
Overall The Chamber of Secrets keeps up that momentum from part 1 of Harry discovering more and more about the wizarding world. But he has already found his place in Hogwarts and knows the basics, so it’s not quite as overwhelming. But we meet new people (Gilderoy Lockhart, Tom Riddle…) and we get to see new things (mandrakes, pixies, polyjuice potion….). So the magic discovery doesn’t stop at the end of part 1 – it just doesn’t take centre stage anymore. This time it’s about getting behind the dark mystery that’s unfolding at school, as it will otherwise have to close. And for Harry, who has for the first time in his life found a place to call home in Hogwarts, has more reasons than most to go to exreme lengths to save it.
The Chamber of Secrets introduces darker powers. We knew about Voldemort in part 1, but he was a dark shadow from the past and the darkness was much more personal to Harry in that he has lost his parents to Voldemort. In part 2 however the dark forces start penetrating Hogwarts and students are being petrified. It all turns out to be more personal as well, but this time other people are hurt as well.
The casting for part 2 is absolutely superb. Part 1 already started perfectly – they got the trio, Dumbledore, McGonnagal, the Dursleys, Professor Snape, Draco and everyone else just spot on. With Lockhart, Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy the team added more brilliant actors that fitted in seamlessly. I cannot get over the fact that Kenneth Branagh is somehow playing an exaggeration of himself 😀 Jason Isaacs couldn’t be more suitable – he potrays Malfoy as noble and arrogant and yet you know there is something sinister behind it as well right away.And I think the Tom Riddle actor is exactly right for the role – he gets the sneering, nobility, anger, darkness and allure spot on. So from a casting point of view part 2 is a massive success.
Now for the small parts I am not too happy with. As I mentioned, it is mainly staging. For example when Harry finds Mrs Norris, suddenly half the school turns up. Fair enough – they just finished eating and are going to their common rooms. But a) they are all from different houses, b) they are walking in a bulk and c) they are coming from two different directions… It is important that it’s looking like a compromising situation, but it always distracts me, as I find this bulk of students from different houses from two corridors at the same time highly unlikely… I feel this could have been done more elegantly. Or when Harry finds Justin and Nick, he touches Justin. I don’t know if he’s feeling for a pulse or something, but it surely looks very staged, so as to look more compromising. Those little things come up in the film now and again. But that of course doesn’t spoil it at all!
One last thing I found a little jarring was the ending. Hagrid isn’t the most popular person at school, so when he comes back, of course Harry, Ron and Hermione would show how happy they are, but why are all the other students going crazy about it? I know the writer wanted to end it on a high note, but it feels like it’s not fitting the overall story arch. Part 1 did that perfectly – we end with Harry realising Hogwarts is his home. A perfect ending and final beat in his character journey for part 1. In The Chamber of Secrets the focus is taken away from Harry and we don’t get that final beat, but a celebration of Hagrid instead.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a very successful adaptation, but also just a wonderful film and second instalment of the Harry Potter film series. Darker tones have been introduced and we find that magic isn’t all sparkles and unicorns, but also Basilisks and frauds. But Harry finds his place in this world, too, and he is actively fighting for his school, his home. What will await him in his next term?