It’s been more than half a month since my previous Harry Potter movie post, partly because it’s been a busy month, and partly because today is Halloween. I figured that a movie where the main story involves giant spiders, ghosts, and hidden chambers of death taking place in a magical castle makes for a good Halloween post.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, released in 2002, is the second entry in the 8 picture Harry Potter series (if you don’t count the Fantastic Creatures movies). Filming for the sequel began on November 19 of 2001, three days after the wide release of the first film. All of the major players from the first movie returned, including director Chris Columbus, John Williams on the soundtrack, and all the major cast members.
Last time, I focused more on the main cast: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger. All three of them did well in the first movie (even if Radcliffe was a bit stiff at times), and they all make noticeable improvements in their acting skills for the second movie. But for this post, there are two actors I want to focus on specifically. One being Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and the other being Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy.
Richard Harris had a long career in show business. He made his film debut back in 1959 in Alive and Kicking, and would play the lead role in The Ginger Man that same year. He was nominated for Best Actor for This Sporting Life in 1963, and continued performing in movies and on stage for decades. He also had a singing career, with several albums released. Although he never personally won any Academy Awards, he did act in two movies that earned the Best Picture award: Unforgiven (1992) and Gladiator (2000).
He considered not taking on the Dumbledore role at first, citing that his health was in decline, but he relented after his 11-year-old granddaughter threatened to never speak to him again if he didn’t. He was also afraid that the Harry Potter movies would overshadow the rest of his career, the same way that Star Wars overshadowed Sir Alec Guinness’s career. In any case, despite his health problems, he brought a sense of dignity to the role. Shortly after filming ended for The Chamber of Secrets, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer that affects white blood cells. He died months later at 72. Apparently, his last words were “It was the food”, before spending his last three days in a coma. I wouldn’t be surprised if my own last words have something to do with food.
It’s also worth noting that he was a lifelong friend of Peter O’Toole, and his family hoped that O’Toole would take over the role in The Prisoner of Azkaban. But because of insurance concerns over O’Toole, who himself was declining in health due to years of alcohol problems, they ultimately chose Michael Gambon instead.
As for Felton as Draco Malfoy, he’s awesome in the role. He is really charismatic as the Hogwarts bully and Harry’s main student rival from the start. This movie shows that even at 14 (his age while filming this movie), he could also be subtle and had great comedic timing. Yet as entertaining as he is as a pseudo villain character, he was apparently great friends with the main trio in real life. Of the four of them, he was the most experienced in the entertainment business going into the first movie, with significant roles in The Borrowers (1997) and Anna and the King (1999) previously.
Anyway, from a production standpoint, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an improvement over the already well done first movie. The tone of the movie is a touch darker, and much creepier. All the young actors and actresses have clearly improved from the first movie. The visual effects are noticeably better, thanks to improved CGI technology and better use of practical effects. And the soundtrack’s new themes enhance the creepy vibe further.
The movie released to positive ratings overall, with an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 7.2/10. Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 stars, praising the set design. Entertainment Weekly commended the film for going darker. “This is as it should be: Harry’s story is supposed to get darker.” Reviews weren’t universally positive though, as the Rolling Stone review condemned the film for being too long and too faithful to the book.
The Chamber of Secrets earned $879 million worldwide, making it by any measure a huge success, but not quite as successful as the first movie’s $974 million. Even so, it ended up finishing second only to The Two Towers in 2002 (which earned $951 million). It was also nominated for a number of awards, including three BAFTAS for Best Production Design, Best Sound, and Best Special Visual Effects, and two nominations for the Visual Effects Society. Kenneth Branagh specifically won the British Supporting Actor of the Year at the London Film Critics Circle for his very entertaining performance as Gilderoy Lockhart.
At least from what I’ve seen, there is no real consensus on whether the first movie or the second movie is better. For me personally, they’re both about as good as each other, just in different ways. The Philosopher’s Stone has a better sense of wonder and discovery, and it did a better job at fooling its audiences with its red herrings. The story is also a touch more dramatic than the second entry. The second movie features better overall acting, a more focused story, and you start getting a deeper understanding of Harry, Ron and Hermione as characters. I also do like the creepier atmosphere in the sequel, and how it starts looking at the backstory for the franchise’s main villain, Voldemort.
Like the first movie, while this is on the surface this is a fantasy franchise with magic, fantasy creatures and themes involving destiny, they are also very good mysteries. The mystery in this movie involves a chamber hidden in Hogwarts that houses some sort of deadly creature. To most, the chamber is but a legend, yet it truly exists, and has existed for as long as the school itself. Early in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, someone opens the chamber again. There are several mysteries going on here. 1, who opened the chamber? 2, what kind of monster lives in the chamber? Both of these mysteries make for a compelling story, and when this monster keeps “petrifying” people around the school, it gives the mystery real stakes. That said, some of the red herrings aren’t nearly as convincing as Professor Snape was in the first movie.
And then of course, there’s the hilariously hopeless Gilderoy Lockhart as the school’s celebrity Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He’s so likeably arrogant with the way he brags about his “adventures”, even though you can tell from his very first scene that he’s completely phony. There are other great bits of comedy in this movie, but he really takes the cake.
One thing’s for sure, director Columbus started off the series well. He ended up declining to direct the third movie, as it was interfering too much with raising his kids. He still worked as a producer for the third film however, before leaving the series entirely for the last five films. These films are not only easy to recommend to children, but they’re worth watching for adult fans of fantasy.
Next up is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I hope to start doing these posts weekly from now on. Also, I won’t be officially participating in NaNoWriMo again – it’s just been a bad year for creative energies. But I do hope to at least edit one of my already existing books, and then hopefully get back into writing again next year.