By Chris Campo
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second Harry Potter film, and to continue our series of Harry Potter reviews leading up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them later this year, I watched it for the first time. I was incredibly excited about seeing this film, as I loved my first experience with Harry Potter in the last film. I put in the Blu-ray with a big goofy smile on my face, eagerly awaiting my return to Hogwarts. And how was my time at the Wizarding World? Well, continue reading to find out, but I will say that I am even more excited to watch the next film than ever before.
The second Harry Potter film picks up with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) back with his awful Aunt and Uncle, counting down the days until he returns to Hogwarts, or until he hears from his dear friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). While held up in his room being neglected by his muggle family, he is visited by a small, eccentric house elf named Dobby (Toby Jones), who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts. Harry, ignoring the warnings, returns to the Wizarding World only to discover that there are many threats he must face, as well as an ominous voice in Harry's head. It's now up to Harry and his two friends to protect the people of Hogwarts they love (and some they don't) from the danger's that lie in the so-called Chamber of Secrets.
Let me break the news suddenly... I was disappointed by this film. It just has a lot of problems, and while it is in no way considered a bad movie in my book, something just felt off while watching it. I am, however, still absolutely incredibly excited for the third film, which I'll be watching soon, mostly because director Chris Columbus doesn't return to the directors chair. Now, Columbus is not a bad director, he's a rather good one, but I am excited for fresh blood in this franchise. Speaking of blood, this film is rather dark compared to the first, and that was a welcome change, but the problem with this film is that in terms of structure, it's far too similar to the first film.
I was quite uninterested for the majority of the first act. The first hour or so is almost beat for beat the first film. Harry get's rescued from his Aunt and Uncle's house, Harry goes to Diagon Alley, Harry goes to Hogwarts, and there's even a very similar, If not much better looking, match of Quidditch. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty of cute and memorable moments sprinkled throughout, but the similar structure took away some of the wonder I experienced during the first film. Even though I think the third act is by far the best part of this film, that too feels pretty similar to the finale of the first. One benefit of the film's structure is that the plot can be explored much earlier on, there's not as much setup as the first film. The Chamber of Secrets is mentioned very early on and that makes for a very mysterious threat over the course of the film's running time.
And what a running time that is. Clocking in at over 2 hours and 40 minutes, this is the longest Harry Potter film of the bunch, and my god was it noticeable. The film's pacing is off. While familiar, the first act moves pretty fast, and the third act also moves at a fun, comfortable pace, but the film's full of stretched out scenes that didn't do a great job at keeping my attention, causing it to get boring. Not overall, but just in certain scenes. I can't confirm, as I have not read the books, but I have read the cause of this issue is due to the fact that this film is overly loyal to the source material, including most of the content that is in the books. That may excite Harry Potter purists, although for someone like myself who is watching these for the first time as films, it can often feel like a chore.
Okay, I have been way too negative, so lets change that. This film still has amazing, and I mean AMAZING characters. From the main trio to the wonderful supporting characters, every character here feels even more real than in previous films. I want to mention a few characters in particular, starting off with Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). He was a little brat in the first film, and that certainly doesn't change here, but I found him much more interesting in the sequel. He's just a kid so he's not too much of a threat yet, but with what they seem to be setting up with him, and his family, I can't wait. Another character that surprised me was Dobby. When you first meet him, he's a bit annoying (JACK NOTE: how dare you, Chirs), but he absolutely grows on you. There's a scene with him in the closing minutes that is probably my favorite scene in this whole film.
Another thing I want to mention, and this will be quick, is the special effects. While the sets and the makeup work are still astonishing, the filmmakers truly pulled no punches with improving the film's CGI work. The action scenes in this film are much better than in its predecessor, and that's because of the new and improved special effects. In the third act of the film, there's an enthralling battle with a serpent and it looks way ahead of it's time. Also ahead of it's time is Dobby. Dobby is a fully CGI character and he works. It's not to far off from more modern films that feature full CGI characters. Needless to say that the film was visually a treat.
Overall, this second Harry Potter film didn't wow me like the first film, but because I know that the franchise is heading in a new direction with a new director, I still am craving the future films. This film is by no means awful, it just has a few kinks a little time in the editing room would have sorted out. This world is still magical and amazing. I continue to be mad at myself over the fact that I had not seen these films sooner. With that all said, I can now look forward to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and you can look forward to our review next weekend.
By Chris Campo
There are few things more globally iconic than the Harry Potter franchise. I hear about Harry Potter often in my everyday life, even when the franchise isn't particularly relevant at that point in time. You would think someone like myself would have seen these films or read the books, right? Wrong. But with the prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due out this November, I figured there's no better time for me to visit Hogwarts for the very first time. Yes, there will be a review for all eight films, but obviously we must begin with the first, Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. (Or the Sorcerer's Stone for us in America).
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone tells the magical tale of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) who, after eleven years of living with his neglectful Aunt and Uncle, is invited to Hogwarts after learning that he is a wizard. There, Potter not only quickly makes friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), but learns he has a famous past and is a celebrity among Hogwarts as The Boy Who Lived. Harry and company soon discover dark secrets hidden behind every corner of Hogwarts, and it's up to the three young wizards to put a stop to the lurking evil that's after the Philosophers Stone, all while dealing with bullies, school and other charming obstacles.
So I finally found out what I have been missing all my life and... I loved this film. Oh so very much. It's just so damn charming and much easier to follow than I anticipated. It's a delightful watch and I am mad at myself that I waited until my late teens to watch this film, seven year old me would have loved it. Every character is unique and memorable, every action scene is fun, and Chris Columbus found a real sense of wonder in his direction. Very little of this film doesn't work. I had a grin on my face from scene to scene all the way up until the ending. I am now anticipating the seven sequels very much so, and like most kids I imagine, damn, I really want Hogwarts to be real.
What surprised me the most are the characters and the performers bringing them to life. Harry feels so real, and the discovery of his past and his powers feels very natural. He's just too damn likeable. I was worried, knowing how young the cast is here, but they all nail it. Sure, there's the awkward line here and there, but that is an easily forgivable fault. My favourite character, other than Harry, is easily Hagrid, portrayed by Robbie Coltrane. He's just so loveable, and the goofy father figure is a great contrast to the kids. You just want to give him a big hug. Characters are for sure a highlight of this movie and I can't wait to see them grow and be introduced to new ones down the line.
Another huge plus is the world building and lore. There's so many hints and mentions of what's to come and it just gets me all the more excited. Mentioning certain aspects left me in a state of wonder, wondering how the films will expand upon them. And like the best of franchises, the world here feels lived in. The creatures and animals and traditions all feel real. The only problem that comes from this is that there are quite a few scenes of nothing but exposition. Exposition is fine and all, but when there is so much of it, the running time is stretched and stretched. This film is very long and, for what's essentially a children's film, the run time is a bit of a distraction. The titular Philosophers Stone isn't even mentioned until over halfway through the film.
I do understand that the film was released in 2001, but I still want to mention the special effects. First though, wow, the practical effects/sets in this film are mind blowing. This only helps Hogwarts feel all the more real. But as for the CGI... The computer effects are very hit or miss. Some effects look way ahead of their time, like the snake in the beginning or the giant three headed dog, but other scenes, like the Quidditch match about half way through, look god awful, even for the time. Fully CGI bodies was an idea that was too ambitious, and I think that it caused the film to age like hell, at least for that portion of the film. And that is quite a shame, as the Quidditch scene is very fun otherwise.
Overall, the first Harry Potter film is very special, even after only seeing it for the first time fifteen years after its release. It's full of wonderful characters and a wonderful world. I look forward to the next films, both to continue the story and to see the effects improve. Please stay tuned for our review of the 2002 sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, coming at you real soon.