These are messed up PG movies. Look at that picture above. Someone's blood is smeared across a wall to leave a message. Apparently, that's okay in a PG movie. We decided The Goblet of Fire would be the last Harry Potter that Olivia would be allowed to read for a while because the content apparently gets too intense after that. Apparently not. This is film 2 and there's blood on walls. Kids are being hunted. There's heavy discussion about wizard racism. There's a very scary snake that involves brain stabbing. It's all very mature for a PG movie.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
Thank goodness they got off the Chris Columbus train. That's so dramatic. I don't mean to be this dramatic. But there's a reason that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is so darned forgettable. My wife didn't even remember that this movie really existed. We were watching this giant snake try to kill Harry and she thought that this was a new movie. Then I was analyzing it, because why else exist? The story isn't bad. As a Doctor Who fan, I can kind of get behind this story more than I thought. I give it props. It seems like Harry is dealing with a young version of The Master in this one. (Golly, I'm married, guys. Someone actually loves me because Lord knows I don't right now.) It also has that Weeping Angel trope saying that anything that is an image of an angel is also an angel. MY POINT IS that this one felt more Doctor Who-y to me. (Not "Doctor Hooey".) But a lot of the fault lies in the lack of risks in this one.
I don't hate Chris Columbus. But I do think that his film style when it comes to making the Harry Potter movies is a bit...boring. I gave him a lot of props when it came to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. He had so much to establish in that movie that the flaws can be forgiven. But The Chamber of Secrets might be Exhibit A when it comes to falling prey to expectations. Chris Columbus films the movie the exact same way for Part 2. It has clear chapter breaks. It feels slavish to the book because people love the books so much. There's not much growth with the exception that The Chamber of Secrets has (completely subjective to me) a better plot than The Sorcerer's Stone. When in doubt, blame the studio. I can see the studio wanting more of the same. This movie had to be wildly successful. Think about all of the teen YA novels that have been adapted into film. There's a diminishing return on the whole thing. The fact that the first Harry Potter kind of woke up the fantasy nerds really hard means that the studio knew that it had a cash cow when it came to these movies. I'm sure that the word on high was to make The Chamber of Secrets just like The Sorcerer's Stone. That's a mistake that they'll learn from in the next movie. I love Prisoner of Azkaban, so I'm going to unfortunately use that as the pace car for this series. This is unfair to the movie, but I started The Chamber of Secrets a week before I finished it. It might have even been two weeks. We got to the halfway point and I just needed a break. The movie was about to get really scary and my son couldn't handle it. But I also had no gumption to come back to that. After watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone only a month before, I didn't have any more patience for five hours of the same filmmaking style. It all started to bleed together and that's not good for a movie.
The weird thing is that I think that there's something salvagable here. Overall, I said I probably liked it. I just got a little bored. Harry Potter movies are infamous for taking the long route for a short story. Okay, they might not be infamous. I constantly notice it. Because the stories take place over the course of a year, every major discovery has to be buried under some filler. With The Sorcerer's Stone, there's so much to discover about Hogwarts and wizardry. Harry is coming from the point of view of an exile. He's us. We have to learn the rules in the first one. Like Jurassic Park (the soundtracks also share a lot of tonal similarities), we've now seen the dinosaurs. We can't rely on the magic of Hogwarts to be so magical anymore. I think the movie gets that and that's fine. But by taking away the spectacle, we kind of see the flaws. The quirk of the place is a great background now, but it isn't the center of the story. But unlike The Lost World, the story still works. It's just Columbus's treatment of it as the same thing. I hate to go off on this train again, but Columbus should have been pulling a Rob Zombie. He should have made a very different movie and pushed his skills. But again, I blame the studio. I love that there's a shakeup with the next one. I was just informed that David Yates did the other ones. I just love the idea that the Harry Potter movies were going to be like most of the entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise. But that's me. I like that kind of stuff. So the real missed opportunity tied to this is that The Chamber of Secrets has this pretty cool plot. I love the idea of a mystery diary. I like the idea of a character from the past trying to prevent his own destruction. That stuff is very nifty. But the movie, and by proxy, the book, tend to stall things. Hermione figures out a plan. It takes her a month to make it. In that time, Harry keeps running into wacky setting stuff that is ultimately just fluff. Remember, this story is set against the background of kids potentially dying. It's actually absurd that characters hadn't died up to this time. I know that Rowling has no problem killing off kids, based on future entries. But to not kill kids in this one, she has to come up with this absolutely absurd notion that characters only saw the snake's reflection. That's a lot of coincidence. So there's this structure that is just stapled to this story. Any time that there is progress, there has to be some device to slow down the narrative. This is what makes the movie two-and-a-half hours. It's all that intentional pacing stuff which is off for a movie. It seems like the narrative would need momentum and the movie isn't interested in that. Instead, we get bumbling Gilderoy Lockhart.
I actually kind of lover Gilderoy Lockhart. I love that Kenneth Brannagh plays him. It's just the notion of Gilderoy Lockhart. The movie telegraphs that he's incompetent throughout the film. Many stories have an A-plot and a B-plot. Sometimes it's more than that. Gilderoy Lockhart, which a great bit of flavoring for the Harry Potter world, doesn't really contribute much to the narrative of The Chamber of Secrets as a whole. He's an archetype we've seen before, but he's treated like he's this big mystery. But everything in the movie tells you that he's a fraud. Much of the movie is devoted to Lockhart claiming to know impressive magic, but constantly falling on his face. Everyone can see through his sham, so when Harry "discovers" that he's been lying in his books, it is meant to be this major revelation. It isn't in any way a revelation though. Again, this keeps coming back to the Sorcerer's Stone, but it is meant to mirror the Professor Quirrel revelation. (I don't know if I'm spelling that right, but I'm on a role right now and if I touch the mouse to look it up, I'll lose all momentum.) Not only is Lockhart incompetent, but he's just a little bit evil. He's apparently pretty decent at memory spells, but even that backfires. It seems like there's all of this set up without the payoff that continues in the story. Again, I'm not the biggest Harry Potter fan, but Rowling is usually better than Gilderoy Lockhart in terms of having a purpose for him. There are lots of characters who are woven throughout the stories to have meaningful additions to the universe. Lockhart is just a trope that gets way too much attention. I told you I like the character, but he's just completely underutilized for how much attention is paid him. I would love to have this long haul redemption character throughout the series. He's Booster Gold to me. Or Flash Thompson. We have the braggart character who has his come-uppens in every series. But that makes a fine joke if the character keeps showing up. But what happens to these characters slowly over time is that they become the humble heroes. They ultimately make these great sacrifices that no one ever sees. Lockhart just being mildly evil at the end of the story doesn't really contribute. His revelation is made right before Harry fights a giant snake that kills you if you see his eyes. Lockhart turning evil here is chump change in the long run of the whole story. We all knew that he wasn't a good wizard; why bemoan it?
I honestly thought I lost all of my writing yesterday. My screen reloaded itself and my title disappeared in the drafts folder. But it MAGICALLY (pun intended) reappeared, so I'm pleased as punch. God provides...even on my silly blog, I suppose. I will say that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets does actually hit a thing that I really enjoy...just not in a kids' movie. There are lots of parts that are actually scary. The first movie, my favorite moment is Voldemort eating a unicorn or something. This one isn't afraid to be scary (pun intended). Since I'm attempting both in life and out of life to avoid hypocrisy, the spider stuff is amazing. I hate spiders. Like really hate them. I went on one of the Harry Potter rides at Universal Studios and just held my eyes tightly shut when we got to the spider part. I didn't like it and I thought I wouldn't be able to handle that section of Chamber of Secrets. I did fine. I think I had to look cool in front of my kids. (That goes such a long way. Pretending you aren't scared actually might make you less scared.) But that part is genuinely terrifying. Voldemort's book is actually pretty scary and cool as well. This kind of also makes me love the use of flashback. I'm way more interested in the rise of Voldemort than any problems that Harry might be having in school. There's this potential in this movie to outdo the Star Wars prequels in some ways. I never loved how Darth Vader just lightswitched, but Voldemort is actually slowly deceptive and that's really nifty. It's a bit weird to think that Hagrid used to know Voldemort. That doesn't scan with me that well, but I guess there's nothing that absolutely refutes that, so I can't fight it too hard. But this also brings me to my least favorite element of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It's something that I continually tease over and over again. Every time I meet a Harry Potter fan and I just feel the need to take the wind out of their sails, I say "Tom Marvolo Riddle is 'I am Lord Voldemort'". It's not even an anagram just for his name. It's for "I am Lord Voldemort." That's very silly. I could break it down deeper, but I think we should all understand how silly that really is.
My daughter didn't love reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, but that's the next one on the list. My snob likes Alfonso Cuaron, so I'm going to pretend it is one of the greatest movies ever. I don't know how pretentious I'll get about it, but I'm also in no rush to rewatch that movie. But she's working on Goblet of Fire right now, so I better get my butt in gear. It's just that I need a break from Harry Potter for a while. Anyway...
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.