Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PG)

If Harry Potter is back then it means we are nearing Christmas and the traditional end of year clutch of blockbusters.

In the next month we can look forward to the 20th 007 adventure and the second part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the meantime there is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Having not read any of J.K. Rowling’s books it is impossible to compare the movie to the novel, but once again director Chris Columbus takes his audience on a magnificent phantasmagorical adventure packed to the gunwales with eye-popping special effects and mythical creatures.

In their second year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Harry, Ron and Hermione are reunited along with all the other familiar faces and are launched into a fresh adventure when the chamber of secrets is opened and Hogwart’s and its pupils face a terrible evil. A mysterious nocturnal force is leaving pupils petrified, and Harry seems to be the culprit. Is he the legendary heir of Slytherin?

In this one Harry and his friends run into basilisks, a phoenix, screeching mandrake roots and an entire nest of giant, flesh-eating spiders. For all its fantasy it is utterly believable stuff and marvellous entertainment for kids aged nine to 90.

It’s also a much darker film than its predecessor. Certainly the spider scenes may cause problems for some children, while a climactic underground sequence resembles something out of a special effects-laden video flick. Parents should take note.

At more than two-and-a-half hours, the picture is overlong, and certain sections sag badly. Yet the playing of the terrific all-star ensemble helps the proceedings rattle along and, with the background already established in the first film, Columbus and Co can drive straight into the story.

As Harry Daniel Radcliffe leads the film with aplomb but is never left to carry it alone. Emma Watson as Hermione gives the most assured performance from the trio of kids and Kenneth Branagh, as the egotistical Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, steals the film from the rest of the adults – not an easy task when his co-stars include Dame Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs.

Especially poignant are the scenes involving screen veteran Richard Harris, as headmaster Dumbledore, who sadly succumbed to cancer on the very day the movie was previewed in October. His underplayed, majestic performance will be his swansong.

With its thunderous sound effects, otherworldly creatures, witchcraft, wizardry and wonder, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is set to be another mammoth smash hit and, in the tradition of the movies of Ray Harryhausen, the man behind Jason and the Argonauts, may well become a classic.

A quarter of a century ago Star Wars was wowing cinema audiences. Then we had to wait three years for the next instalment. Today it is merely a year. Kids today are truly blessed. I wonder if they really know how lucky they are…?

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