Hogwarts Has Me: My take on the Harry Potter series - Volume Two ("Chamber of Secrets")

How do you follow up a major hit like Sorcerer's Stone with a worthy sequel?

In the case of both the book and the film, apparently, you make it longer and funnier.

While the original laid the groundwork for the soon-to-be immensely successful franchise, the sophomore effort directed its attention on Tom Riddle, and a nice dose of much-needed humor came in the form of the incredibly egocentric Gilderoy Lockhart, arguably the funniest character to appear in the series to date.

Truth be told, prior to last weekend, it had been a while since I laid eyes on Chamber of Secrets, and apart from Kenneth Branagh and the slightly suicidal house elf Dobby, I didn't remember much. It was nice, then, to revisit the sequel with fresher eyes and an open-minded viewing partner. Turns out the film was better than I had remembered, though I was a little nervous that the lengthy duration time (2hrs and 41min) would turn my mom off. Thankfully, it did not.

I think it's safe to say the series has begun to grow on her just as much as it has on me.

THE BOOK

Almost 50 pages longer than its predecessor, Chamber of Secrets reads just as easily as Sorcerer's Stone, with much of the same things I liked in the original still intact here (i.e. the details given to the textbooks, Mrs. Weasley acting as a caring mother figure for Harry).

I also like a few new things Rowling brings up, particularly the idea of wizard racism. This could have, quite easily, turned into a laughable subject matter, but it's handled in such a way that it feels realisitc and genuine.

I liked the sheer awkwardness that abounds between Harry and Ron's sister. The films really don't capitalize on Ginny's crush until late in the game, but here, it's expressed in much finer detail. While I can understand its omission from the film, one of my favorite moments from the book was the Valentine's Day ordeal.

Yet again, there was something I could personally relate to in the story. The students seem both surprised and upset when they discover that classes will continue even with an apparent killer on the loose. Relatively recently, a Univeristy of Georgia professor killed three teachers at a nearby theatre community. The next day, classes were not cancelled, and students had to go about their day as usual, with the suspect still out free. Some people just can't be swayed.

There are some things the film left out that accounted for some of the funniest moments in the book:

  • At the beginning of the story, Harry goes over how he'll stay in his room and pretend he doesn't exist when the Masons arrive at the Dursley's. He repeats this several times in the book, and it's much funnier than how it shows in the film.
  • If there are two people who seem to consistently have their most humorous material cut from the films, they would have to be Percy Weasley and Draco Malfoy. Percy is the epitome of a boarding school prefect, and his snobbish demeanor is always fun to read. Malfoy is even nastier in the books than the movies, and as a result, he's funnier. His best moments are when he squares off with Ron and takes low blows at his family's limited income.
  • Lockhart's funnier here, too. One of his best moments comes when he forces Harry to reenact some of his supposed triumphs, and he pounces on him while pretending to be a werewolf.
  • Peeves the Poltergeist is not necessarily missed from the films, nor is he altogether relevant in general. But reminding Moaning Myrtle that she forgot to add "pimply" to her resume of imperfections made for one of the funniest things in the entire book.

Additionally, though these would not fall under the category of 'funny,' Snape's entrance in this installment is better in the book (when he pops up unexpectedly behind Harry and Ron), and there's much more of a fierce outcry from several of the students when Draco calls Hermione a Mudblood.

One thing I couldn't understand in either the book or the film was the formation of the Slytherin house. I mean, the guy's a blatant racist, so why name something in his honor? And seeing as how he left the school when it decided to integrate, how is he still an integral part of it? It kind of seems like you're asking for it when you put students in a club that's built on racial superiority. That'd be like naming a fraternity after Charles Manson and wondering why the guys all turn out to be crazy.

Of the six films, where would you rank "Chamber of Secrets?"

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THE FILM

Much like the previous film, this one does a pretty good job of staying faithful to the book. Again, there are a few alterations (Mr. Weasley's supposed to be thin, Colin's supposed to be fat, Binns tells of the Chamber of Secrets and not McGonagall), but nothing too extreme.

One of the only major changes the filmmakers made was a good one. In the book, Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley actually scuffle in the bookstore. In the film, Arthur thinks better about it and decides not to do anything. To me, that seems more like what the character would do, especially if we're talking about fighting in front of kids. I'm not saying the filmmakers know more about Rowling's characters than she does, but somehow, the scene would have felt odd had it gone the other way.

Once again, some scenes from the book are changed for the better, or they're enhanced for a more satisfying cinematic effect:

  • The levitating pudding actually falls on Mrs. Mason's head and not on the floor.
  • A scene is added where Harry and Ron get in front of the Hogwarts Express and end up getting chased by it while inside the flying car. Additionally, Harry nearly falling out of the car was not in the book, but it gave the film an appropriate level of suspense.
  • The scene at Hagrid's hut after the Mudblood/slugs incident is better here. In the book, Hermione doesn't know the term Malfoy used is an offensive one, and it doesn't seem to affect her too much. In the film, you get a better sense of how hurt she is.
  • Tom's diary responses are much shorter in the film, adding to the sense of mystery present in his character.
  • There's a hint in the book that Ginny may be involved with something big, but you get no such clues in the film, and so it's much more a surprise to learn the role she plays in the final moments of the movie.
  • Harry's fight with the basilisk is much more elaborate and exciting.
  • The film handles Dobby's being freed better. In the book, Harry outright gives Lucius the book with the sock hanging out, and he throws it, which Dobby catches. In the film, Harry sneaks the sock into the book, with Lucius finding out after the deed has already been done.
  • The book glosses over Hermione's return to Harry and Ron in the end. In the film, it's much more of a moment.

While I do understand her purpose, I have to admit that I found the character of Moaning Myrtle to be somewhat annoying (the high-pitched voice and schizophrenic behavior wore on me after a while). I find all of the films to be entertaining, though this one had the slowest feel to it, which is understandable given its nearly three-hour time duration. I'd rank it in the 6th place slot.

THE CASTING

You can't talk about Chamber of Secrets and not mention Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. He nails literally every scene he shows up in (and that includes the deleted scenes). The way he delivers the line "Celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that," complete with his pleased look afterward, is perfect.

Just as effective in his role is Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. He will likely be forever typecast as a villain (remember him from The Patriot?), but he rarely disappoints, so there may be something to that.

The unsung hero here would have to be Toby Jones, who doesn't show up in the physical sense, but instead does the voicework for Dobby the house elf. It's a performance that could have easily veered into the Jar Jar Binks area of vocal acting, but fortunately, it never goes there.

It's amazing to see how quickly the three leads grew in just a year. Daniel Radcliffe looks older, Emma Watson's hair is longer, and Rupert Grint's voice has obviously wrestled with puberty. Not to mention, they each seem much more comfortable in front of the camera.

All of the returning professors are good once again, though they all seem to have considerably less screentime. Can there ever be too much Alan Rickman as Snape? I don't think so. Also, Mark Williams makes for an instantly likable Arthur Weasley.

THE VISUAL EFFECTS

Year 1 had a few special effects glitches here and there. And even though Year 2 isn't perfect (the cobra during the duel is obviously computer-animated), the visuals here are a gigantic improvement.

Two things in particular stand out. One, perhaps the most obvious, would be the character of Dobby. Not only is the genetic makeup of the elf nearly flawless, the way that Radcliffe interacts with it really sells the idea that it's in the room with him.

The other big attraction is the basilisk. Everything from the scales to the spit dripping from its teeth dares you to look into its horrific yellow eyes and not be at least a little bit concerned for your own safety.

THE SOUNDTRACK

John Williams started the series off on the right foot with Sorcerer's Stone (which earned him a well deserved Oscar nomination), and, with the help of William Ross, he returns with another excellent assortment of memorable scores.

Prologue: Book II and the Escape from the Dursleys is a fine introductory piece that reworks the original prologue and gives it a much more graceful finish.

Fawkes the Phoenix feels so effortless and light, you might as well be flying along with Dumbledore's pet bird.

Introducing Colin, thought short, begins like it might be a holiday tune, but it transforms into a slightly more dramatic score before it's over.

Last, but definitely not least, Reunion of Friends is a revised version of "Leaving Hogwarts." Not only is it a better piece of music than the original track that influenced its creation, it's easily one of the best scores (if not the best) in the entire series.

THE DVD FEATURES

On the 2-Disc set, you get to view a myriad of nice supplementals with Argus Filch to the left of your screen, occasionally accompanied by his equally creepy cat, Mrs. Norris.

Game Preview: just what it sounds like, you get to view six clips of a few levels from the EA Games videogame. Some of it looks pretty cool, particularly the Quidditch segment and the battle with the basilisk.

Additional Scenes: not only do you get to view the deleted scenes without a 10-step process, you get much more of them this time. Nineteen clips await your curious eyes, including Lockhart giving the class a quiz on his 'accomplishments,' and the real Crabbe and Goyle running into their body doubles, courtesy of Polyjuice Potion.

Lockhart's Classroom: in case you couldn't enough of this man (and, really, how can you?), here you'll find a photo gallery of Lockhart in various locations, detailed certificates that he earned and his required reading textbooks, in case you decide to enroll in his class.

Extra Credit: DVD-ROM features, if you care to check them out.

Behind Hogwarts:

  • A conversation with screenwriter Steve Kloves and author J.K. Rowling
  • A look into the creation of Dumbledore's office, showcasing how seriously talented a lot of the people behind the scenes are
  • Interviews with virtually all of the principal cast in the film
  • Production sketches of eighteen different designs in the movie. Some of the best concept art ideas can be seen with Dobby, Aragog, Fawkes, long shots of Hogwarts, and the Howler.

Activites: you get to play 3 games --- Chamber Challenge, The Forbidden Forest and Colin's Darkroom --- and tour Diagon Alley. The first game requires you to put things in order before you get to the chamber, and the second is basically a ride, where you try to get out of the forest and back to the school grounds.

Spellcaster Knowledge: another game, really, where you try to guess what effect a spell will have after watching a brief clip. It's kind of cool, actually.

THE ULTIMATE EDITION (Coming December 8, 2009)

Like I said last time, don't be surprised if another well-packaged DVD/Blu-ray product comes after the final two films are released. Until then, though, it looks like you'll be able to indulge yourself.

The features here don't look as impressive as those on the Sorcerer's Stone edition, but they're still plenty fascinating.

A lot of the supplemantals from the first film are found here, too:

  • 48-page book
  • Screen tests for Daniel, Rupert and Emma
  • Theatrical and extended versions of the film
  • In-Movie Experience with Chris Columbus
  • A digitial copy of the original theatrical film

But this one also includes:

  • Daniel Radcliffe's screen test with Evanna Lynch (why this isn't on the fifth DVD, I'm not sure)
  • A look at how the directors and designers developed the characters from the page to the screen
  • All of the aforementioned 2-Disc set special features.

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