Shiny Shelf

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By J Clive Matthews on 19 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Well, it’s not as dull as the last one, but this is a franchise which has already begun to look untenable, and not just because JK Rowling can’t be bothered to write any more books now that she can afford to buy Scotland.

Even if you are able to brush aside the often abysmal acting of some of the little brats they’ve got in (not all of which are extras – that Malfoy kid is trying so hard to sound “posh” and look menacing he seems to have forgotten how to emote) the fact that Harry is now so obviously an adolescent, whereas the children supposedly bullying him are still some way off puberty, grates terribly. Even without his magical prowess, he could quite easily beat them into a pulp without breaking into a sweat.

On the plus side, the film looks much nicer than its predecessor – almost certainly due to the presence of Roger Pratt as cinematographer. Pratt’s work has been an integral part of such seminal fantasies as Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ and Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ and he is a master at blending weirdness with normality, filming models to maximise their believability, and at getting odd costumes to look realistic. Here he also proves his mastery at selecting the right filters to hide poor CGI – although effects slip ups are not as obvious here as in the first film due to the far greater input from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.

Considering that Chris Columbus appears once again to simply have told the actors to speak their lines, ordered little Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) to gurn as much as possible and got the hugely impressive list of adult cast members (from the late Richard Harris to Kenneth Branagh) to simply play caricatures, a case could probably be made that Pratt is the guy responsible for this film seeming better than the last.

The main problem is that, as with the last one, it is simply too damn long, although it must be admitted that it isn’t quite as painful to sit through. What they’re going to do when they get to the next two films, where the books were significantly longer than the first two, God alone knows. If they continue these working methods expect the fourth film to clock in at over six hours. After all, for these first two it seems the basic adaptation method is simply that 100 pages of text = 1 hour of film. Which is scarcely neccesary.

But we mustn’t forget this is a film for children. As such, I’m sure it’s just fine. Every character except for Harry himself is as one-dimensional as it is possible to get, and thus very easy to grasp. The adult cast members are obviously having great fun (although poor old Richard Harris does look on his last legs), and the kids all seem to be trying desperately hard not to pick up their “Hello Mum!” banners, so excited are they to be in this visual interpretation of their latest (but surely past-it now?) fad.

Let’s face it though, this is going to make an enormous amount of money, and no amount of poorly-rendered CGI “House Elves” with “amusing” dialogue are going to stop that (although in Dobby’s favour, he’s at least much, much funnier than Jar-Jar Binks). The fact that Harry now looks more like the star winger for the school rughby team than the scrawny, geeky kid of the books, and that his voice is deeper than most of his teachers’, will probably not matter to the children that are queuing up outside the Odeon even as I type this.

For the adults in the audience, anyone who goes who isn’t taking children deserves all the excruciating buttock cramping they will inevitably get. Unlike with the last film, where the hype was so great it was practically impossible not to go and see it, this time we all should have learned our lesson. It’s a kid’s film, and a merely adequate one, and no amount of Kenneth Branagh over-acting,or Roger Pratt cinematography will ever change that.

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By J Clive Matthews

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