Friday, July 29, 2011

Ranking Potter: #7 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets has reopened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

Something’s trying to keep Harry away from Hogwarts in his second year – and when he finally does make it back, we find out why. The Hogwarts equivalent of an urban legend, the chamber of secrets is back in play, and whatever its unleashed, is preying on the students – and other inhabitants of the school. At the same time, Harry finds a diary that opens into a world 50 years in the past, but while he unearths secrets about some of his closest allies, the narrator himself might be an unreliable one.

Chamber of Secrets was the slasher-killer book of the Harry Potter series. The whole premise of characters being picked off one by one was transported from the Scream series into the Hogwarts setting with wonderfully chilling results. There’s a constant sense of dread that the book maintains ever so well right – amplified by that scene where the History of Magic class is shaken out of its stupor by a Chamber of Secrets question.

While the Potter movies have often failed on some level to accurately recapture that intangible sense of wonder that permeated the books, this was the movie that made this fact the most glaringly obvious. This was the chance for Chris Columbus to set right some of the mistakes he’d made with the first installment - namely the drudging faithfulness to the text and the unwillingness to take artistic risks. Instead, so lost is he with recreating the minor details, making sure that as little is left possible on the editing table, that we pretty much miss the forest for the trees. With more commitment to keeping the plot chugging along like clockwork, the ominous atmosphere is replaced by simple forward momentum. This isn’t necessarily fatal for the movie – just disappointing considering what could have been.

But our concerns must lie with what we have, and here Columbus’ instincts do give us the joys of Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Gilderoy Lockhart, of a majestically created Chamber of Secrets, and the painstakingly crafted visuals that bring Hogwarts to life. Whatever Columbus may be criticized for, he succesfully created the visual palette that future directors would use as a platform to ascend greater creative heights.

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