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.

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July 25, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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