The second chapter in the criminally overrated Harry Potter saga finally finds itself translated for the big screen, and for better or worse, the experience this time round is no different than what was felt a year ago. Fans of the book will find this to be as true a depiction as can be achieved while lesser enthusiasts, like myself, will remain puzzled amid the confusion of characters, resolving of puzzles, and the over bloated struggle between good and evil.
In the opening moments of the Chamber of Secrets, we are introduced to Dobby, a manic depressive 'house elf', which borders on masochism, and speaks in a strange gibberish fashion. He makes his way to Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) inhospitable uncle's house, where Harry is again being mistreated and made to feel like an outsider. Dobby warns Harry against returning to Hogwarts, the school of magic, sorcery and wizardry where Harry is enrolled as one of its more promising and popular pupils, lest he endanger his and everyone's else's existence there.
Despite the elf's insistence, Harry is adamant on returning and is soon aided by Ron and his magical flying car. Within a few moments of his emancipation, Harry is reunited with other familiar faces, some friendly and others not so, from his first successful year at Hogwarts. Returning characters include gal pal and brainiac, Hermione, Hagrid the giant, headmaster Dumbeldore and of course Professor Snape. However a few new faces are also introduced. Of these, the flamboyant, self serving, ostentatious Lockhart, a teacher of the dark arts, is by the far the most interesting. Kenneth Branagh, a great aficionado of Shakespeare, plays his part with adequate pomp and clearly has the most fun with the little screen time that he is given. The other character seeing the light of day, is the dark hearted, slithering (to borrow a word from the movie itself), Luscious Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), father to Harry's arch rival Draco Malfroy.
While departing for Hogwarts, Ron and Harry miss catching their train and have to settle for the services of Ron's aforementioned magical flying car. On their arrival, they find themselves in hot water for having exposed themselves so openly and are thereby put under detention. What follows then, is a series of strange occurrences featuring the return of the sinister, unspoken heir to one of the founders of the school, the opening of a secret chamber that holds the answers to the troubling events that transpire and literally petrified students. Revelations are made, old secrets are unearthed and unknown traits are discovered.
While being in the same vein as its predecessor, some notable modifications are present. The game of Quidditch is more pod race than flying on brooms, while the effects are also richer and more convincing. Numerous interludes are provided in the form of depictions of the second year classes. However these are what slow down whatever entertainment can possibly be derived. They seem oddly disjoint in their execution. I failed to sense connectivity in the transition from one scene in a class room to another. Part of the problem lies in director Chris Columbus' insistence on filming as much of the text as can be possibly squeezed into the already overlong film. This truly slackens the pace. Whatever promise is shown in the opening act is partially lost in the middle. There is almost no sense of pacing or urgency as the focus shifts from friendship to training sessions to mystery and then back again to friendship.
Each subsequent portion of the story, for a little while at least, failed to propel the story any further. When 'Lord of the rings' was released late last year, some critics pointed out that director Peter Jackson was too intimidated by the scope and magnitude of the work he was filming, to actually attempt any experimentation with the source material. Sadly, that seems truer of the constipated Chamber of Secrets. What it has going for itself is its rich imagination and the very vivid perception of that imagination. As un involving as I found the central portion to be, there's no denying the sense of astonishment that is created in witnessing the spectacle that is observed. From an interactive, chat software like magical diary that answers questions, to the howling letter that Ron receives from his mother, everything serves to signify the sense of wonder that is the main objective of author J. K. Rowling's universe.
The pace and excitement certainly pick up in the last act with the introduction of the giant spiders. So well made was this sequence that I found it to be, on a whole, more entertaining that the entire giant spider movie, 'Eight legged freaks' from this past summer. The resolution of events and the final showdown are also more climatic than the first films unexciting ending. With a new director set to take over from Chris Columbus and a break of a couple of years till the next tale in the Harry Potter franchise can be witnessed, I only hope that there is also a change in direction and flavor for those who eagerly await Harry's continuing exploits at school. - Faizan Rashid