I was in a bad mood when I popped in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the rewatch, so maybe this is a little unfair, but the second movie didn’t seem to hold up as well as the first one did.
And you know what’s funny? Chamber of Secrets is the second shortest book… but with a run time of 161 minutes, it is the longest movie, period. It is longer than every subsequent movie where Much Worse and More Complicated Things Happen, but while I do feel that the pacing and general storytelling improved a little from movie one, other aspects dragged it down. It’s never fun being the second installment. You have a lot to live up to, and as part of a longer series, you also have a lot to build up to. Chamber of Secrets as a book is already probably the least thrilling, the least memorable, the least favorite — it is debateably the least important too, despite laying the groundwork for many later concepts and themes.
[This post contains nonexplicit spoilers for the second book/movie -- I reference various plot points and themes and commentate but don't ever say exactly what happens.]
In particular, lackluster acting on the part of most antagonists annoyed me greatly. As I mentioned in the first rewatch post though, this is probably as much a fault of the book as it is the movie. Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy is aggravating. Yes, yes, Draco is canonically trapped in a schoolyard bully stereotype at this point, but Felton’s portrayal does nothing to help this — it seems that Draco is always hiding just off camera so that he can burst in awkwardly at the first opportunity, over-emphasizing every other word that comes out of his mouth. He’s just so too forceful. The way he says “Potter” was especially irritating. He tries far too hard to say it with disgust and it almost sounds like a stutter as a result. There’s nothing natural about any of it, least of all his expressions. Surely Draco would have learned some subtlety from his dear father?
Not that Jason Isaacs’s Lucius Malfoy was great at being subtle, but at least he didn’t almost-shout half his insults to the Weasleys.
Meanwhile, Alan Rickman’s Snape continues to be terribly, terribly awkward. I have realized this: Snape doesn’t actually have any facial expressions. He is always staring blankly off into the distance; his eyes don’t focus on anything, and the way he delivers his lines is toneless and empty. The should be contempt and bile and general disgust in his voice, but there isn’t. He should be sneering across the room at the wonder team after their run-in with the Whomping Willow, but instead he kind of looks like he’s about to cry. No, seriously, what’s with this face? Does he look disdainful to you?
Pure blood supremacy is introduced here, laying the foundation to many later events and themes. It has its roots in Salazar Slytherin’s ideals… which doesn’t make a ton of sense, in retrospect. If Slytherin was fanatical enough about blood purism to leave the school over it, and if the Sorting Hat really does remain true to each house founder’s wishes, why would half-bloods and Muggleborns ever be sorted into Slytherin? The House would have withered to a handful of crazies ages ago. Sure, Slytherin had other ideals, but no one ever talks about those. Ambition and loyalty? Cleverness and determination? What? Then again, I guess this makes about as much sense as all the Death Eaters being fanatical blood purists and following a half-blood tyrant. Power does trump hypocrisy. That’s a theme too.
The acting on the part of the trio was quite all right, though I think it’s much more obvious in the movie than it is in the book that Ron is basically useless. Scrubbing him out of the movie would have changed nothing, as the only thing the youngest Weasley son was good for was making hilarious faces, making hilarious squeaky noises, and being hilariously terrified of everything. But I guess it’s good he’s around for comedic effect. Kept my mind off the dumb, nitpicky things, except not really, because here’s a short list:
- Pretty much every spell used in the dueling scene did the same thing — send off a minor explosion and throw the opponent off their feet. Expelliarmus and whatever the first spells Draco and Harry threw at each other all did this. In fact, did the Disarming Spell actually disarm Lockhart? His wand was not shown flying off, he did not spend any time looking for it, and he seemed to have it again when he walked back towards Snape. Sure, I’m also a little sad that Harry didn’t use Expelliarmus at any point in the movie, but would have been impossible for Chris Columbus (or anyone else) to guess the significance of the spell this early on.
- No one has mentioned Bill at all in these first two movies; Ron mentioned Charlie in Philosopher’s Stone, though he didn’t make an actual appearance, but no one has mentioned Bill, hahaha. I suppose it’s obvious enough already that there are a billion Weasleys, but I would expect them to do a quick summary to introduce them all or something…? How long would it have taken for Ron to mention that he has five older brothers and let us do the math ourselves?
- I am miffed that Errol’s name is mentioned at least twice, but Hedwig remains nameless still! I know it isn’t important, but it bothers me.
- It also bothered me that the blinded basilisk depended entirely on sound. That’s not how snakes work! I don’t recall if this was specified in the book though, so I’m not sure if this is a movie-only complaint… well, given that the basilisk’s fang doesn’t really work like a snake’s fang anyway, I don’t know if there’s a point in being fussed that a giant, mythical snake monster isn’t actually like a real snake.
Harry still doesn’t have green eyes.
On the plus side, I did continue to enjoy Chris Columbus’s vision in regards to many aspects of Hogwarts, such as Dumbledore’s office and the Chamber itself. More positives:
- Christian Coulson was the perfect Tom Riddle. He was sufficiently handsome, proper, and I think the flashback did well to both portray him in a deceptively positive light and highlight his similarities to Harry. Riddle showed contempt and arrogance in a manner the Malfoys and Snape could never achieve. His blatant disregard for Ginny as the wheels in Harry’s head slowly turn was lovely.
- Kenneth Branagh as Lockhart was also pretty awesome, but hey, it’s gotta be fun acting like a pretentious git. :D
- The Quidditch match was fun, if a bit long. The rogue Bludger did make for some fantastic action flying though.
- John Williams’s score was much more distinct and unique this time — no longer a remix of Home Alone 2!
- Molly Weasley sends a damn entertaining Howler.
One thing I wish that could have been touched on more in both the books and the movies is the idea that not everyone in Slytherin is automatically a bad guy. At the end of Chamber of Secrets especially, the bias towards Gryffindor and against Slytherin is pretty bloody ridiculous. Harry’s choice to go to Gryffindor instead of Slytherin is implied to be the difference between he and Riddle/Voldemort, as if Harry choosing to go to Slytherin would automatically have proved that he had all of Voldemort’s worse traits. To be fair, this early on in the series, there is still a “for kids” aura about the whole thing, so black and white, good and evil extremities isn’t all that surprising. But really, it isn’t until the very last installment that the good and evil polarity of Gryffindor and Slytherin begins to dissolve.
All in all, Chamber of Secrets was pretty… whatever? There were annoying purist bits and some bad acting, but nothing too serious. There were enough good things to balance it out still. I suppose I wouldn’t say that I disliked it, but I felt indifferent — I didn’t enjoy it the way I did the first movie. But I didn’t like the second book as much as the first either? Poor second installment indeed.
Don’t worry though, the indifference can’t and won’t stick around for the third movie rewatch. Let’s see if the Prisoner of Azkaban hurts me as much now as it did seven years ago…