Behold the power of fantasy, that dream-weaver who slays worries with a whisper, that champion of far off looks and deep sighs. In Harry Potter and the Sorcero's Stone, the first of the Harry Potter series, the film made you grin so broadly it was embarrassing. It brought out the kid in you-the kid who looks wide-eyed at a display window in one of those old Christmas flicks, the kid who contemplates silly things like why no one thought to make Bowdoin a big castle with moving staircases, and how cool it would be to ride to class on broomsticks.
The second installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, only widens the fantastical realm of the first. It opened last weekend with a bang, selling out shows days in advance and driving theater employees nationwide out of their minds-all so millions of devoted fans could finally see what they had previously only imagined: Harry's heroic adventures in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.
After having been rescued from his miserable existence at the Dursleys', and living for a while with the Weasleys in their magical home, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) plans to return to Hogwarts for another year but a pesky house elf, Dobby, warns him that he is in danger and must not go back.
Ignoring him, Harry returns to the school, where, true enough, something terrible does happen: the Chamber of Secrets, built by the founding muggle-hating wizard Salazar Slytherin, is opened. Students are being attacked and Harry is the main suspect. However, with the help of his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), matured with the wisdom of his headmaster Albus Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris) and the gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry uncovers the mystery of the chamber and saves Hogwarts from the forces out to destroy it.
Director Christopher Columbus took on the daunting task of adapting the widely-read novel to the satisfaction of its fans a second time, and within the limits of Hollywood-the three hour time limit and a preference of action over content-he succeeded. His only shortcoming is not going deep enough into what is one of the greatest stories ever written.
However, that's a given; you simply can't fit a 341 page narrative masterpiece into three hours of film. You could probably fit it into five or six, but according to Hollywood, who tends to see the public as a herd of mindless cattle, our butts would start to hurt too much after sitting for that long and we'd wander off to newer pastures. So there goes any chance of the film being as good as the book.
That out of the way, this movie still rocked. First, let's talk characters. Kenneth Branagh made a fabulous Gilderoy Lockhart, the supremely egotistical Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. I'm sure he was cast based on his performance in Much Ado About Nothing, easily his most eccentric and hilarious Shakespeare role.
Another newcomer to Harry's world is Lucius Malfoy, father of Harry's nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), played by Jason Issacs (The Tuxedo, The Patriot). I never thought he would look so deliciously evil with platinum blond hair tied in a ribbon, but he did. And he's got the evil squinting sneer down.
As for the old trio of youung protagonists-Harry, his friend Ron, and Hermione-there's really nothing quite as authentic as watching the actors grow up along with their characters. Harry's voice has deepened since last year, Ron's squeaks, and Hermione's hair-well, I think her hair got longer, anyway.
None of these kids could be called great actors on their own merit-Rupert Grint had only acted in an elementary school play before being cast as Ron-but luckily the screenplay didn't ask for much of it. They are as we imagined them, and that is all that matters.
Selecting which scenes from the book to show in the given screen time must have been tough for the filmmakers, but it got a heck of a lot easier once they decided that a lot of action was cooler than a broken story. Harry gets beat up by a giant tree, is almost killed by a rogue Quidditch bludger (see book for definitions), barely escapes from an army of giant, and very hungry, spiders, and then, of course, is left to battle the final monster alone, as the hero destined for greatness.
All in all, this is an incredibly entertaining, well-made film for both bookworms and pure moviegoers alike. It also keeps us hard core fans Harry-happy until the much-anticipated release of the fifth book next spring, and the third film in 2004. The saga continues