Harry Potter, in book form, gives lie to the terrible misconception that children need to be talked down to by their entertainment. The books are lengthy, complex and tightly interwoven pieces of fiction that get even more intricate with every subsequent volume.
Harry Potter, in movie form, belies the standard belief that a children's film based on a children's book can only be enjoyable for children. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (161 minutes, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, rated PG) follows the book's lead, treating its audience (and its source material) with respect.
Young wizard Harry Potter is set to return for his second year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry, but things just keep going wrong. Reunited with his friends, he soon finds that something terrible is lurking about, threatening the students as well as the very future of the school itself.
The second film in the Harry Potter series, Chamber of Secrets moves beyond the self-contained set pieces of the first story and delivers a complex continuing story. Though still quite episodic (such is the mandate of a story set in a school), the plot keeps building, keeps moving toward its conclusion.
All the main actors returned, though Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Rupert Grint (Ron) brought new, deeper voices with them. The three young leads have a believable chemistry, and I'd like to see them retained through all seven films - the characters are aging throughout the stories, so why shouldn't those playing them do the same?
Care was taken in the casting of even the secondary characters. Kenneth Branagh turns on the smarm as magical golden boy Gilderoy Lockheart, unleashing his inner windbag to play the perfectly coiffed king of self-involvement. Tom Felton returns as tiny Aryan Draco Malfoy, and this time his even creepier father Lucius (Jason Isaacs) comes along to further the message of racism in the wizard world. Alan Rickman's Professor Snape has had his sinister edge softened (since he no longer need play the role of a suspect) and headmaster Dumbledore allows Richard Harris to go out on a high note in his final role.
In a film about magic and fantastic creatures, the special effects almost become a character in themselves. From something as simple as light shining out of a wand when a spell is cast (or backwards if that wand is broken) to creations as complex as the fully CGI house elf, Dobby, the effects are all beautifully handled and integrated - unlike some other film serials I could mention, the effects are driven by the story and not the other way around.
Warner Brothers Home entertainment presents Chamber of Secrets on a two-disc special edition. The film is nearly alone on disc one, and the image and sound quality reap the benefits. This is a dark film, and the picture often does melt off into shadow as it should while still leaving colors vibrant. The sound is clear, with several scenes taking full advantage of any surround sound capabilities. The disc is rounded out by "Year One at Hogwarts," a recap of the first film, and the Chamber of Secrets theatrical trailer.
Disc Two invites the viewer to become a student at Hogwarts, and the menu is patterned after a study desk. From here you can access 19 additional scenes, visit Lockheart's classroom, see an interview with author J.K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves, tour Dumbledore's office, view production sketches, listen to interviews with the cast, pass an interactive quiz to sneak into the Chamber of Secrets, escape from the Forbidden Forest, view photos from the set, take a tour of Diagon Alley and test your knowledge of spells used throughout the film. There is also a preview of the Electronic Arts video game and the DVD-ROM features.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is one of those rare sequels that surpasses what has come before. Except for the religious nutjobs who think that the books are evil for endorsing witchcraft, there isn't really any objectionable material, but there is enough to keep anyone entertained for the duration.