(PG) 3 stars Could there be a movie more critic-proof than this one? Try to picture Mom and Dad approaching the kids and saying, "Grab your coats, Brittany and Josh, we"re going to see the new Harry Potter!" only to hear, "Thanks ever so much, Mommy and Daddy, but we couldn"t even consider attending such a significant cinematic offering without reading what Ed Johnson-Ott thinks of it." Of course, there are many grown-up fans of the series, so, for them I shall press on.
If you saw the adaptation of J.K. Rowling"s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer"s Stone, here"s what you need to know about the big screen version of the second novel. Since most of the character introductions have been taken care of, Chamber of Secrets gets moving faster. Bear in mind, though, the movie assumes you"ve seen the last one, so you may wish to read the plot description coming up in a few paragraphs to re-familiarize yourself with the many players. IMPORTANT NOTE: After the long closing credits have rolled, there is a very brief closing scene that shows the fate of a major character. Adults will appreciate the joke far more than kids (the littlest ones won"t get it), so parents with antsy offspring should consider skipping it (you can catch it when they roll out the Super Mega Colossal Deluxe Collector"s Edition DVD in a few months - or e-mail me and I"ll tell you what happens). Overall, the movie is snappier than the first - the editing is livelier and John Williams" score is less imposing. It is also longer (161 minutes including credits), more episodic and it lacks the epic feel of its predecessor. Sensitive souls young and old may experience nightmares from some of the dark, scary business - particularly a creepy scene with giant spiders. A later encounter with an incredibly large snake, however, doesn"t feels as menacing as it should. The young cast seems more assured this time around, although, as with the first movie, it is frustrating to see such a stellar adult cast given so little to do. The film introduces some imaginative new creatures, including the squalling mandrakes. Unfortunately, it also allows Jar Jar Binks" nephew to pay a call. Dobby the Elf (voiced by Toby Jones) is a totally CGI character ý la Jar Jar, and he is nearly as annoying. Dobby twitches, cowers, talks too much and does lame slapstick - does this sound familiar? I wonder why, when filmmakers concoct CGI beings, they make them jittery, bumbling, babbling and subservient? As promised, here is the plot description. Study it well, for your children will likely pepper you with questions during the drive home. After a lousy summer at the home of his horrible aunt and uncle, made worse by a disastrous visit from Dobby, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) escapes and heads off for his second year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The trip is far from smooth; something blocks Harry and his best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) from taking the short cut through solid stone at the train station, so the boys commandeer the flying car owned by Ron"s dad and go careening through the skies to campus. There Harry makes two new acquaintances: teacher of defense against the dark arts and self-adoring author (his autobiography is titled Magical Me) Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh, reveling in the role) and long-haired, evil-eyed Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), the father of Harry-hating school punk Draco (Tom Felton). Soon, Harry and Ron run into the amazing Hermione (Emma Watson) and the team supreme is happily reunited. With the faculty - headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris, alas, for the last time), professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Hagrid the Giant (Robbie Coltrane), new herbology professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes) and Lockhart - in place, classes begin. But a series of bizarre incidents, including students becoming petrified, leads to the legendary Chamber of Secrets, supposed home of a monster. It is believed that only a descendant of evil wizard Salazar Slytherin, a Hogwarts co-founder violently opposed to the admission of Muggles (the children of regular humans) with pureblooded witches and wizards, could open the chamber. Complications ensue and Harry starts looking awfully suspicious. After Hermione gets petrified, it gradually becomes clear that Hogwarts can only be saved if Harry Potter makes a trip to a dangerous, forbidden place to face a horror that could take his life. There, that should be enough plot information to get you by. One final fact of use: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban begins production this spring and will reach theaters sometime in 2004. For that installment, the director will be Alfonso CuarÛn (Y Tu Mam· TambiÈn). CuarÛn is a better filmmaker than Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two films, and I"m told that Prisoner of Azkaban is a better book than Chamber of Secrets. If so, the future looks bright for Harry Potter.