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'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'

Sophomore slump? Not for Harry at Hogwarts

Friday, November 15, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

The kids will be just as wild about Harry the second time around, but adults had better be ready to take the multiple-choice quiz in advance.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) looks on as Professor Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris) feeds Fawkes the Phoenix in "Chamber of Secrets."

"Harry Potter
and the
Chamber of Secrets"

RATING: PG for some scary moments and monsters

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Maggie Smith

DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus

WEB SITE: harrypotter.warnerbros.com


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"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" contains the same tasty ingredients from the original recipe, with the same three little witches toiling and troubling over the broth. But Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his faithful sidekicks, Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson), find sophomore year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry even more manic than the freshmanic.

It wasn't easy getting there. Harry's horrid Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon Dursley (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) do their best to hold him hostage again, with the aid of Dobby, the world's most masochistic house-elf. But Ron miraculously rescues him from the Dursley dungeon by means of a flying car -- a piece of low-tech equipment, if ever there was one.

Once safely ensconced back at school, our heroes discover their alma mater is threatened from within as well as without: A dark force terrorizing the place seems to be emanating from a Chamber of Secrets in the basement. You'd think the adult wizards could help solve this problem -- especially Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), the new professor of defense against the dark arts. But they're useless as always, and Gilderoy is only interested in promoting the latest of his vanity-press books.

And as if Harry didn't have enough to worry about, there's the ongoing additional hassle of that nasty yellow-haired wizard Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and his even nastier yellow-haired son (Tom Felton) -- the blond leading the blond -- to contend with.

Director Chris Columbus knows the drill by this time, and he gives us some wonderful moments. Chief among the highlights is the terrific attack by the enchanted Whomping Willow tree against the boys and their flying car -- a truly harrowing scene, with superb sound effects. My second-favorite scene is a hilarious classroom exercise involving "freshly caught Cornish pixies" loosed upon the students. And I love that daffy Dobby, whom everybody beats up on -- but not as much as he beats up on himself.

As for the live adults, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Richard Harris reprise their authority roles well enough (if adding nothing new), while the most enjoyable new character is clearly Branagh: "Fame is a fickle thing, Harry -- celebrity is as celebrity does!"

But the young audience is strangely silent throughout and doesn't seem to be laughing or reacting very much, presumably because they know everything that's going to happen so well.

I, on the other hand, do not: The plot and character histories are largely baffling to me, while the many monster confrontations seem a bit deja vu from "Indiana Jones" or "Jurassic Park."

But Rupert Grint's Ron alone is worth the price of admission, particularly when up-chucking slugs; Radcliffe's Harry is a thing of stoic beauty; and the production is lavishly lovely.

Oh, what fools these Muggles be to criticize.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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