Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets



USA (US/UK) 2002 : Chris Columbus : 161mins

Harry Potters second year at Hogwarts turns out to be almost exactly the same as his first. While fans of the books will be delighted, there’s even less for non-aficionados this time around. And the few newcomers who drift in without having seen Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone will be completely bewildered, given how Columbus and screenwriter Steve Click for the Warner Bros. Online Kloves instead dive straight into the action with a bare minimum of exposition, teenage wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) eluding the oppressive clutches of his vile relatives and escaping to his real home, Hogwarts, where he must foil another dastardly plot involving his arch-enemy Lord Voldemort.

With the exception of Zoe Wanamaker (who bailed out complaining at the stingy wages) virtually entire cast from Potter 1 is back, joined by new faces Kenneth Branagh (as narcissitic fop-wizard Gilderoy Lockhart) and Jason Isaacs, who sports a fetching Veronica Lake wig as Lucius Malfoy, father of Harrys rival Draco (Tom Felton). Though a welcome addition, Isaacs arrival gives Alan Rickmans Professor Snape a rival in the sneering villain stakes, this diluting Snapes screen time. As Rickman was, for most adults, easily the best thing about Philosophers Stone, this means that Chamber of Secrets will exert even less appeal to over-12s especially as the third hour yawns into view.

Its surely no coincidence that the best kid-pics of recent years, The Iron Giant and Shrek, clocked in at a brisk 86 and 90 minutes respectively, while Hayao Miyazakis Spirited Away, which appeals equally to all ages, is considered something of a marathon at 125 minutes. There are hardly any adult films, past or present, which could justify Chambers 161-minute running time. And its a solid rule that childrens movies, like horrors and comedies, shouldn’t exceed an hour and a half unless they’re of really exceptional quality – there’s certainly nothing in Chamber of Secrets which falls into that category.

The main concern of young Potter readers is that the films adhere as closely as possible to the book which means Kloves has to cram in as many characters and episodes as he can, often spending an absurd amount of time on superfluous sub-plots, as when Harry and best pal Ron (Rupert Grint) take a potion to make them look like Dracos henchmen. This results in a very laborious, old-fashioned kind of storytelling, and it would take a much more wizardly director than Chris Columbus to breathe life into such a bloated, overextended screenplay.

Every now and again, Columbus (quite arbitrarily) uses a mild fish-eye lens to give the widescreen image a slight distortion, but otherwise nearly all of the shots in Chamber could be seamlessy inserted into Philosophers Stone. Because this isn’t so much a sequel, as another episode in a wildly elaborate modern version of a Saturday-morning serial. At least George Lucass similarly old-school franchise Star Wars makes an effort to keep things at least visually interesting by zooming across the galaxy from planet to planet the Potter movies suffer by being largely stuck within the gloomy confines of Hogwarts.

And diminishing returns have already set in Chamber of Secrets is to Philosophers Stone as Attack of the Clones was to Phantom Menace: fine for fans, borderline unendurable for the rest of us. Alfonso Cuaron faces a stiff task when he takes over the reins for the next instalment, Prisoner of Azkaban, due in summer 2004. Cuarons Y Tu Mama Tambien doesn’t offer much grounds for optimism, so paceless it felt much longer than its 105 minutes – but more promising omens are to be found in his earlier A Little Princess, which diverged drastically from the book on which it was based. Lets hope he can persuade Kloves to take a few more liberties with J K Rowlings semi-sacred text than he does here. So sorry, dozed off, confesses Lockhart at one point. What did I miss? The answer: not much.

12th November, 2002
(seen 11th November , UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead)

For the original preview of the film click here.

by Neil Young