A review of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG for creature violence and mild language

Run Time: 2 hours, 41 minutes

 

 

“Harry Potter” is that rarefied species of film I call “critic proof”.  No matter how the critics weigh in, “Potter” will rake in beaucoup bucks and establish itself as this year’s big-money prize winner.  Unfortunate, considering the latest installment of the J.K. Rowling mega-series is a watered-down, CG-saturated nod to moviemaking convention.

The easy charm of the original has turned sour this time around.  Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hogwart school chums Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have grown bigger, but not a whole lot wiser.  Harry still possesses his powerful, often uncontrollable gifts of wizardry (which are repeatedly put to over-the-top tests), Ron is relentlessly goofy, and Hermione leads the charge in artless smarts.

 Enthusiastically embarking on their sophomore year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the trio is reunited with headmaster Albus Dumbledore (the recently deceased Richard Harris), Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).  Not to mention Slytherin bully Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and gentle giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). A new addition to the eclectic administrative staff is Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), a narcissistic instructor in the defense against the Dark Arts.

Quiddich continues to reign supreme on the playing field, and a bevy of eccentric spirits roam the grand halls. But someone has inadvertently opened the numinous Chamber of Secrets, unleashing a sinister terror that threatens to destroy legendary Hogwarts once and for all.

“Potter” is filled with the delights that only a pricey computer system can offer. On the plus side, there’s mincing sidekick Dobby the House Elf (think Yoda with low self-esteem), mischievous Cornish pixies, and the miraculous living mandrake root (affectionately known as mandragora officinarum), whose high-pitched scream will destroy its listener. Unfortunately, the action is so dense with frantic activity - flying cars, giant spider attacks, sinister snake battles and the lot - that’s it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Naturally, Harry and company go mano-a-mano with Harry’s arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort (the evil wizard who murdered Harry’s parents), in between homages (which feel more like grand theft) to “Star Wars”, “Gremlins”, “E.T.”, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  Even the score features the all-too-familiar essence of John Williams.

“Potter” suffers from the “Toy Story” Syndrome – meaning it’s virtually impossible to rekindle the delightful sense of discovery that highlighted the first installment.  And at a bloated 161 minutes, it’s nearly impossible to stay awake.