Harry Potter Triumphs in the Chamber of Secrets

The Romantic heart of a hero beats even stronger in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, a sorcerous sequel that offers darker evils and greater heroics than the original.

Based on the book of the same name, the new Harry Potter film picks up where the first one left off. Harry has completed his first year as a youngling wizard at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is spending his summer holiday with this Muggle, non-magic-using aunt and uncle. Life is horrible with the unimaginative Dursleys, who despise anyone who practices magic (as Harry’s parents did before they died saving him from the evil archmage Voldemort). They would prefer that Harry had never been born, and treat him accordingly, forcing him to hide in his room when company visits.

What’s worse, Harry hasn’t received a single message from his friends all summer, and he’s beginning to feel utterly cut off from the only world where he ever felt … normal. His sense of isolation and the unrelenting tedium of life with the Durselys is suddenly punctured by the appearance of an unexpected ally: a diminutive house elf named Doby. He warns Harry that he must not return to Hogwart’s, that if he returns, he could die.

Naturally, Harry ignores his advice and finally finds his way back to Hogwarts, only to find that the elf was right — something horrible is going on at the school. Students are being petrified by an unseen foe, a monster whispered to have dwelled in a hidden chamber that was only accessible by the heir of its arcane creator. As the school year progresses, Harry and his friends search with an intensifying passion for the lost Chamber of Secrets … and to reveal the identity its heir.

The Chamber of Secrets is faithful to the book that inspired it, and like the book, is darker and scarier than the original. It’s no Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — no one gets his heart torn from his still-beating chest — but while the first movie was appropriate for five and six year olds, this one’s probably better for mature 7 and 8 year olds.

Much has been made about this descent into darkness, but its important to note that its not Harry and friends who take on this tinge … it’s their surroundings. Some of it is just human reaction to certain kinds of creepiness — specifically arachnids — but there’s no denying that this movie has more openly horrific elements to it. Particularly scary, especially for young kids, is the ominous, murderous voice that Harry alone can hear and the various “petrifaction” scenes, which are footnoted by bloody messages smeared on the walls.

The aforementioned arachnids play a major part in the movie and the scene in which Harry and his Ron seek out their giant spider kin in the depths of the forest may be too much for some kids (hell, it may be too much for some adults). Ron alludes to this when he says (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Spiders … why does it have to be spiders? Why can’t it be butterflies?

The movie’s ending is also more violent than its predecessor. While both the Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets feature Harry fighting for his life against a dangerous foe, his enemy in the new movie is more overtly monstrous.

Do these darker elements hurt the movie, and the series? I don’t think so. It’s well known to Potter fans that the books get progressively darker as they go on, as Harry faces increasingly complex enemies and plots. But at the same time, this darkness serves to highlight Harry’s innately heroic nature — he’s pushed to even greater heights because the evil arrayed against him is so, well, evil.

That said, my wife — who has read the first three books — prefers the first movie’s more whimsical nature. While Sue didn’t have any problems with the second book when she read it, and while she admits that the movie’s scenes are faithful to the source, she feels that the same scenes writ real are far scarier than they were in text form. I agree that the movie’s more striking than the book, and that parents must think twice before bringing very young children to see this movie.

That having been said, this movie only strengthens my opinion of the series, both in movie and book form. Harry is exactly the sort of creative, intelligent, daring and heroic character that we need more of nowadays — and when I say we, I mean kids, adults and everyone in between.

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