Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Follow the Spiders

(This is the second in a series of retrospectives looking back at the first five films in the Harry Potter franchise.)

I was 12 years old when the second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, graced the silver screen. Any frustrations I had with not being able to audition for the role of Harry were a distant memory. Having been a diehard fan of both the films and books for nearly a year up to this point, I was anticipating the release of this film more so than any other that year, and I must say, it didn't disappoint.

When I finally saw the film I fell in love with it, thinking it bested the first one in every way possible. When I was twelve I was a zealot, a purist of the books, someone who was angered if the filmmakers cut or changed even the most minute detail, so I was extremely pleased at how slavishly the filmmakers translated this book to the screen.

I touted this film as the best in the series for many years after its release, even after the releases of the third and fourth Potter outings (which were both a touch less faithful to the books). As I grew a tad older I began to learn more about film and how it was made, and my tastes in movies began to mature. I eventually decided to return to Chamber of Secrets to see if I was still in love with it, and what I discovered surprised me.

While I still love Chamber of Secrets, I've found that most of my admiration for it comes from my memories and not the actual film itself. While the film is still just as funny as any other Potter adventure, and features some truly spectacular and thrilling moments, it is not my favorite Potter film any more.

As I've discovered as I've grown older and become more versed in the language of film, that while a story may be wonderful on the page, much must be amended in order for it to work onscreen. While the film works, it is a tad long, and the pacing is fairly slow throughout the film's long 161 minute runtime. That is not to say that I still do not enjoy this film though.

The over the top performance by Kenneth Brannagh as Gilderoy Lockhart is one for the ages, and inspires true hilarity. Certain lines like, "Celebrity is as celebrity does," cracks me up every single time. Dobby is immensely more likable in the film than he is in the books, partly because the film makes you pity him rather than see him as an equal. As well the sequence in the forest against the spiders is truly thrilling and frightening, not to mention later in the film when Harry arrives in the Chamber of Secrets and does battle with the cgi-laden basilisk. And who doesn't get a tad misty-eyed when they watch that final scene in the Great Hall?

While I still love Chamber of Secrets, I have come to realize that it has its flaws, though if you look hard enough nearly any film has a flaw or two. While the film may have a slow, almost tedious pace, the suspense of watching the mystery of the Heir of Slytherin unfold is so encapsulating that it still keeps me intrigued even though I know the answer. While this particular film may not reach the soaring heights of its predecessor, it is still a worthy successor and is a genuine classic, just like the first.

(Stay tuned for part 3 of the Harry Potter retrospectives where I take a look back at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)

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