A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 512 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – July 25th, 2011

It’s only day two of Potter week and I’m already feeling nostalgic about the whole thing. I have a stack of books from work – new ones – that I fully intend to read on my vacation and yet I find myself considering the dusty Harry Potter books in the living room bookshelves. I think to myself “It won’t take long to read them! You got through the last one in four hours! You can whip through them while Andy’s at work and be that much better prepared for the movies!” But the truth of the matter is that I’ve got other things I need and want to do with my days and other books I haven’t already read several times over. I can only imagine how I’m going to feel when I’m done with the week and we’ve been to see the last of the movies in the theater.

To be honest, I’ve always felt that the second book was a rather weak follow-up to the first one. It’s got some great stuff in it, but it almost feels disjointed from the rest of the stories. The first story introduces the hero and the villain and some people on both sides. It lays down the foundation for the entire world everything is set in and sets up the whole concept of Voldemort and his quest for power. The third movie really sets a lot of the later events in motion, with Sirius Black and the introduction of the Marauders’ Map. But the second one, while giving some valuable information on Voldemort’s past and some of the history of Hogwarts, has always felt to me as if it stands somewhat alone. This is as true of the movie as it is of the book. I don’t see how it could not, without adding a whole bunch of things that aren’t in it.

Unfortunately, this movie also suffers from having my least favorite opening scenes. I truly detest the whole subplot with Dobby trying to “protect” Harry by keeping him away from Hogwarts or trying to make him go home. The whole opening, where Dobby the house elf makes mischief and frames Harry for it? It’s excruciating. I could cope with it in the book because it’s written out. Something about it played out on screen just pings my embarrassment squick something fierce and I had to ask Andy to turn the volume down during the cringe-worthy bits. It occurs to me that a whole lot of Harry’s life is a “cruel to be kind” scenario, and that really must suck for him.

What this movie does have going for it is even more fantastic casting. In particular, the casting of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, is one of the most inspired bits of casting I’ve ever seen. Kenneth Branagh is perfect for the part and every scene he’s in is fantastic thanks to his performance as the ridiculously egotistical professor. Of course all the main cast are back from the first movie, and the castle is as gorgeous as ever. It’s a beautiful visual representation of the book and I especially love the details in the pipes under the school. That is what I find to be this movie’s strength: It shows things that really reinforce the whole idea that Hogwarts is very old and very full of secrets and space no one has seen in hundreds and hundreds of years. Hogwarts has always felt to me to be a truly wondrous place and its depth is very much apparent here. And since the entire climax takes place in the titular Chamber of Secrets, it’s only fitting that it should be well represented. If it hadn’t been that would have been a true pity for the movie.

The story here revolves around the mythical Heir of Slytherin who has apparently opened the Chamber of Secrets, releasing some sort of monster that is attacking students at the school. The entire movie is a series of events that go as follows: Someone gets attacked, Harry is one of the first on the scene after it happens, professors arrive and it Looks Very Bad for Harry. Then Harry and his friends try to figure out who’s really responsible and fail to figure it out before someone else is attacked. Lather, rinse, repeat. Of course, along the way there’s plenty of action and adventure. Harry figures out that he can speak a language called Parseltongue, which means he can communicate with snakes. He and Ron learn that there’s a giant spider named Aragog living in the Forbidden Forest. And then there’s the ever important Voldemort background.

There’s a bit of flashback where we meet Tom Riddle and see him in school as a young man. Now, in the context of this movie that’s important because Riddle preserved a bit of himself in a diary so that he could resurrect himself later on through the life force of another person. And Riddle later became Voldemort. The backstory is nice and gives a bit of depth to the whole thing, but it also impresses upon me how much of a standalone this is. I mean, look at Riddle’s diary and the version of him that’s coming through. This isn’t quite the same as the Voldemort we saw in the first movie or the one we’ll see later on. He’s a fragment. Granted, the diary was put in place by one of his followers, so one would assume that the later Voldemort is aware of what’s happening. Still, the movie doesn’t really set him up as being the same person. It’s setting him up to be the potential for the same person.

I’m afraid I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this movie. It’s difficult for me to review it without this being a review of the book instead because this movie does what the first one did which is to take the book and present it on screen as faithfully and slavishly as possible. On one hand that’s a comforting thing to see. All the things one loved about the books are right there on the screen. On the other hand, it’s not bringing anything new to the table except visuals that we all had in our heads when reading the books. I suppose for someone who wanted to bypass the books entirely this would be perfect. Watch the movies and for the first two you’re all set in a few hours. If you’re like me, however, you want the change in medium to bring something a little more. I’m not talking a situation like The Dark is Rising, here, but I would have gladly sacrificed a little bit of the accuracy for a glimpse of something new at Hogwarts that I hadn’t even dreamed. Fortunately, tomorrow the movie is a bit more of a departure. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

July 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In many ways the second Harry Potter movie, like the book, feels like a re-do of the first. There’s a particular formula to the first few books, a sort of rhythm that becomes apparent. Harry starts out living in misery with his aunt, uncle and cousin. He’s whisked away to Hogwarts for the start of a new term. Some new characters are introduced (like a new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher.) There is a quidditch game. There is rivalry with Slytherin house. There’s a mystery of some sort at the school which only the trio of Ron, Hermione and Harry can unravel. There is a final confrontation with Voldemort. Over the course of seven books this formula slowly evolves as Jo becomes a better storyteller, but way back here with the second movie it’s still very much in force.

That having been said, however, I do enjoy the mystery at the heart of this movie better than that in the first movie. It has more twists and red herrings. It is a more organic part of the story. Most importantly, for a movie, it has a more cinematic feel. Since the world has already been introduced a lot less time can be spent establishing it and more can be spent just playing in it.

This movie starts to introduce some of the concepts at the heart of the conflict in the Potter universe. There are the prejudices of the “pure blood” wizards for example. The notion of “mud bloods.” The titular Chamber of Secrets is an ancient ancient trap devised by Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts. He felt that wizards of impure blood had no place in the school and had hidden a deadly monster to be used by his eventual heir to rid the school of all such Mud Bloods. It becomes clear, as Harry’s second year goes on, that the chamber has been opened by somebody and that the beast is being released to menace the school. Harry and his friends must discover what the beast is, where the chamber of secrets is hidden and who has opened it before somebody is killed and the school is shut down.

The best thing in this entire movie, however, is Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, the self obsessed new defense against the dark arts professor. One of the great strengths of this series is the amazing talent that the franchise attracts. When I first heard about him being cast I couldn’t quite picture it, but I need not have worried. Branagh wonderfully captures Lockhart’s smarm and narcissism.

As with the first movie this film is full of beautiful production design that brings the world of Harry Potter to life. I love seeing the Weasley home particularly with its run down but pleasant feel. It’s a pity that they don’t show Harry de-gnoming the garden, but as with the first movie Chris Columbus has made an effort to film the book as faithfully as possible so its understandable that some scenes must be missing.

I really thought I’d have more to say here. As with the first movie this one does a nice job of bringing the adventures of Harry Potter to the screen but it doesn’t really so much adapt the book as simply attempt to film it. The distinction between these different approaches becomes apparent when you view tomorrow’s movie, which marks a real turning point for the franchise.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment