Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
By Heidi Tandy
November 12, 2002
That's three hours of my life I want back again...so I can see the whole movie all over.
Well, maybe not the last three minutes of it. I don't know what Steve Kloves and Chris Columbus were thinking about at the ending of Chamber of Secrets. Admittedly, it's always going to be a finale with less impact than Philospher's Stone, where Harry is going back to the Dursleys' for the first time since starting school, or Prisoner of Azkaban, where he has the prospect of a correspondence with Sirius to look forward to, or the mixture of sadness and expectation at the end of Goblet of Fire, but still.
The Hargid love was a little much.
But back to the begining, and the 147 wonderful minutes in Chamber of Secrets. Yes, I know the running time is one hundred and sixty one minutes long, but you can't give awards for the trailer itself (although it did give those who stayed the interesting bit of information that the guy who played Mr Borgin was in the credits.)
So, when do we get to see that scene?
There was also an unfortunately lame minute in which Harry was dying from the basilisk venom. That minute clocked on my watch as pushing 110 seconds, though. In other words, Harry should've been dead before Fawkes showed up, unless of course Tom was lying about how much time he had left, which is entirely possible.
Now, about Tom. Well, the two Toms. Riddle and Felton.
Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson) was sublime. While I don't want to mix canon (even movie canon) and fanon [loosely, extended characterization made by fans, sometimes reaching beyond the scope of what is discernible in canon], this is the Tom that I see in Viola's Dreamwalk Blue - someone who, at sixteen, made the choice to be ruthless and stop at nothing to get exactly what he wanted. He's a clever schemer, diabolical, and note-perfect, even in the absence of clever dialogue. A few small fragments of his performance in the Chamber scene don't actually make much sense, but that's more a glitch in direction than anything within his purview. Can someone please give this guy the career trajectory of Ewan MacGregor, and soon? He deserves it.
The other Tom, Tom Felton, turned in a performance that was exponentially better than his work in Philosopher's Stone. This is the neurotic and immature child from Anna and the King - not the fake put-on job he did in Philospher's Stone (especially the troll scene). Not a hair or thread out of place - all the interesting elements were in the subtext. Now, I know I'm a notorious Draco-redemption-theorist (I've read my Pride and Prejudice; I can see him with Hermione in a number of years, especially given his clear obsession with her that Lucius mentioned in the bookstore scene) but I saw it with someone who isn't, and she saw, in his interaction with Lucius (more on him later), with Snape, and with Hermione, a friendless, messed up little kid who doesn't quite grasp the real world with both hands. And given the way Lucius treats him (and the rest of the world) who can blame him for needing therapy? Lots and lots of therapy.
Mostly because it's all about Lucius. As others have said, it's a wonder that he wasn't in any scenes with the brilliant Kenneth Branagh, because the film would have melted. It's difficult to be evil without being over the top - Christian Coulson pulls it off because he's not supposed to seem evil right off the bat. He's supposed to throw you off guard when Riddle's real identity is clear. Lucius Malfoy is evil on - er with a stick, and his malice towards everyone, from his son on down, is delicious. His scenes are perfectly paced, which is something I didn't feel in many other scenes, especially in the first hour, where there were jumps from one context to another. It's no problem for book-canon devotees, but those who haven't read the books might fumble a few times.
A bit of exposition on things like Percy's relationship with Penelope (which deserved a bit more screen time, and would've given Ginny some actual dialogue in the middle two hours of the film), the fact that Hermione had a brainstorm that sent her to the library, and perhaps even Ron's knowledge of who Riddle was (because, honestly, why else does Harry ask him about the Chamber?) would've been a good use of a few moments of screentime.
I don't want to sound like any deviation from canon is tantemount to blasphemy - certainly putting the Chamber exposition into Prof. cGonagalla's scene was fine, as was the decision to have the cake drop on Mrs Mason instead of Harry (but it would've been loffly the other way too). But there were little nuances that I missed, and the changes in Harry's confrontation with Lucius were possibly canon problematic (not the bit with the sock, but the hint that Lucius was about to use Avada Kedavra on him, and Lucius' not taking the diary). And it would've been much sweeter if Hermione had hugged Ron, like she did in Prisoner of Azkaban, and he had turned red and stammery.
I know I've glossed over things like the vast improvement in the performances by the trio, the small but substantive performance from Edward Randell (Justin) and the wonders of the Quidditch match; they all made a terrific impact, and contributed to making this experience much more plesant than my first viewing of Philospher's Stone last year.
In fact, the minute Philosopher's Stone ended, as a theaterfull of people could attest, I started kicking the chair in front of me as soon as the person sitting there stood up, because I was so frustrated by, among other things, some of the wasted time in the film (the bit with Harry and Hedwig in the snow is a particular frustration).
Not this time.
And it's only two days and one hour before I can see it again.