Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 27, 2017)
Man, that Harry Potter’s a real license to print money, isn’t he? The books sold in the millions, and the movies cleaned up at the box office.
2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone raked in $317 million. That allowed it to narrowly edge out The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s $313 million as the year’s top-grossing flick.
History didn’t repeat itself in 2002, as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets only managed to place fourth among the year’s biggest moneymakers. Spider-Man easily grabbed the trophy for 2002, as it earned a whopping $403 million.
Frodo got his revenge as well, for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers came in second place with a take of $333 million. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones’s $302 million got it to third place – still the only Star Wars that didn’t top its year’s box office – while Chamber ended up with $261 million.
That figure doesn’t live up to the three above it, and the money also fell by about 18 percent compared to the gross of Stone. While that may seem like a minor disappointment, especially since the second Lord of the Rings flick substantially outdid its predecessor, I actually thought Chamber earned better than I expected.
Before Chamber hit screens, I predicted it would drop quite a bit compared to Stone. I figured it might rake in about $230 million, but I felt sure it wouldn’t approach the $300 million plus of Stone.
The success of Two Towers above Fellowship felt logical, as the latter made a lot of fans from folks who didn’t give it much thought before it received so many accolades. Personally, I only went to see Fellowship because it got so much praise. However, the movie won me over after a few viewings, so I gladly greeted the release of Towers, and I’m sure I’m not the only hobbit-doubter who changed his mind once he saw the first film.
On the other hand, I don’t think the same tendency occurred in regard to the Potter flicks, as Stone attracted a lot of viewers out of curiosity. Between the enormous success of the books and the hoopla accorded the film, it became an event movie. Even folks like my Dad who expressed no prior interest in the series gave Stone a look.
And many of them didn’t much like what they saw. Whereas Fellowship earned a lot of fans like me who’d never cared about Tolkien’s books, Stone didn’t seem to convert many non-believers. Those who already felt an affinity for the series seemed to like it, but it appeared that many others failed to comprehend what merited all the fuss.
Or maybe not. As I mentioned, I thought Chamber’s gross would fall substantially below that of Stone, but the retention of 82 percent of the first flick’s gross seems pretty solid.
In any case, Chamber kept the franchise running well, at least in the commercial sense. Stone followed Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Chamber then picks up at the start of his second term.
Before Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) heads back for the school year, we see him back home with the piggish Durley family, headed by his uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths). When Dobby the elf (voiced by Toby Jones) warns him not to return to Hogwarts due to a frightful plot, Harry splits anyway, though his buddy Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and his siblings have to bust him out of the Durley abode.
From there we see Harry and the others prepare for their return to school. A trip to Diagon Alley for supplies reunites the boys with their friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and school assistant Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) as well as Harry’s schoolmate for Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his equally nasty dad Lucius (Jason Isaacs). We also meet egotistical wizard/author Gilderoy Lockhart, who we’ll run into again later at Hogwarts, where he’s a new addition to the staff.
Harry’s return to Hogwarts isn’t easy, though. As he and Ron try to slip through the magic portal to catch their train, it closes.
They resort to another method to make it to Hogwarts: they “borrow” Mr. Weasley’s flying car and zoom to the school, though some mishaps occur along the way. After a little trouble, things seem to settle into the standard routine.
They meet Lockhart as their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and we also learn that purebred wizards feel a bias against those who aren’t. They call those folks “Mudbloods”.
Slowly things start to turn weird around Hogwarts. Harry hears an ominous voice in his head, and this leads him to a strange message that warns about the Chamber of Secrets. Starting with groundskeeper Mr. Filch’s (David Bradley) cat, various folks mysteriously become petrified by an unknown force.
Basically the rest of the film leads to the eventual discovery of the Chamber and all the secrets that surround it. Along the way, we see more of life at Hogwarts and meet a creepy new character called Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson) who eventually assists in the pursuit.
Some folks preferred Chamber to Stone, and I’d probably agree with that sentiment, though only to a small degree. A scarier piece than Stone, Chamber creates a more ominous world and creates a level of introspection not found in the first film.
The growth of the child actors helps that trend to succeed. Actually, of the three main kids – Harry and his compatriots Hermione and Ron – only Radcliffe seemed like a weak link in the first flick.
While he didn’t grow enormously in Chamber, Radcliffe displays noticeably greater levels of confidence and personality. He came across as a dud in Stone; there he seemed very bland and lifeless.
Radcliffe feels substantially more vivid in Chamber, as he shows greater spark and flair. He doesn’t take the film to a higher level, but at least he doesn’t cause it to drag, a problem that could occur during Stone.
As with Stone, Chamber boasts a very solid supporting cast. In addition to holdovers like Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane, Chamber includes a few new performers, with Jason Isaacs and Kenneth Branagh as the most prominent of the pair.
Both acquit themselves quite nicely. As shown during 2000’s The Patriot, Isaacs digs into villain roles readily, and he makes the most of his limited time onscreen here.
As the broadly egotistical Lockhart, Branagh lights into his part with vigor. He allows the part to become lively and amusing, and he helps add some spark to the flick.
One acting surprise came from the Moaning Myrtle character. She adds a lot to the film’s darker feel, as she provides a surprisingly creepy personality.
Whereas the other ghosts mostly pop up for laughs, Myrtle seems genuinely eerie, and the story of her young demise contributes to the harsh impression. (Even more shockingly, though Myrtle looks like she’s supposed to be about 13, actress Henderson was 36 at the time!)
Where Chamber falters largely relates to its running time. Stone ran 152 minutes, but it tended to move acceptably well. I could more easily forgive its excessive length because it needed to handle so much information.
Stone had to establish an entire world for those of us with little foreknowledge of the series’ jargon and situations. It also needed to establish a slew of characters. Virtually the entire first half of Stone dealt with these issues, and the use of that time to set up the personalities, settings and topics seemed logical and necessary.
With Chamber, the filmmakers could step right into that world. Yes, they need to introduce the smattering of new characters, but they already handled the vast majority of the exposition in Stone. Because of this, one might expect a much more streamlined story that moved more quickly and came out at a less severe running time.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur, as Chamber actually lastsfive minutes longer than Stone. Since the second flick requires so much less exposition, this seemed odd, and the long running time really makes the story drag at times.
During Stone, we got so much new material that it became harder to get bored. Unfortunately, the same factor doesn’t hold true for Chamber, as the story really plods at times.
Occasionally I just want to shout “find the stupid Chamber already!” It seems to take them forever to get to the point of the movie, as it takes numerous unnecessary detours.
Actually, whether these shifts feel useful or not will likely depend on who you ask. For me, Chamber drags because it focuses too heavily on daily life at Hogwarts. Do we need another game of Quidditch or another trek to Diagon Alley or all those shots of classes?
From a story point of view, no, we don’t require those. However, people with a jones for Potter likely love that stuff, as they seem to eagerly grab any chance to revel in the normal life of their fictional friends. It isn’t good storytelling, but it seems to make some people happy.
Many will likely disagree with me in another area as well, but I feel that Chamber ladles on too many scenes that feature pointless magical moments. Do we need to see the Cornish pixies? Do we need to observe all the living photos? Do we need to watch needles knit by themselves?
Nope – again, from a story point of view, all of this becomes totally superfluous, and it slows down the movie. Also again, many people clearly love this stuff. I disagree, as I think those pieces feel gimmicky, and they don’t add any real spark to the flick.
Another fault that applies to both Potter flicks relates to the way it usedsits cast, or doesn’t use them, as the case may be. The Potter series boasts a lot of terrific actors, but many receive precious little real screentime in both flicks.
Actually, I can’t really complain about this, as the movies do and should focus on the kids. However, it just seems like a shame to boast a cast that includes Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese and others and give them so little to do. Only Branagh gets much legitimate screentime here, as the others feel like afterthoughts.
The computer graphics of Stone failed to impress me, but Chamber offers a moderate improvement in that department. Some of the elements – the Cornish pixies, in particular – continue to look pretty fake, but the flick’s most substantial CG character seems surprisingly convincing.
That’d be Dobby the elf, who offers perhaps the film’s most compelling character. He seems pathetic and sympathetic, and he works quite well. I maintain a general disdain toward CG, but Dobby largely satisfies me.
To a minor degree, I could say the same about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. While definitely a flawed and slow-moving film, it offers enough reasonably compelling material to make it acceptably enjoyable.
I never threaten to become swept away with the magic of the whole thing, but I think it presents some decent moments. No, that’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s about as much passion as I feel toward Chamber. It comes across as a moderately entertaining flick but nothing more than that.
Footnote: fans will definitely want to stick around until the conclusion of the end credits. There’s a fun little treat for those who hold out until then.