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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I recently saw the live action Scooby Doo movie on DVD. And although I generally don't write about DVDs here on the yeti, this is how I would review it:

I didn't have high hopes for this movie, and it lived down to my expectations. The hero and his friends have a mystery to solve, and do so by tracking down a series of clues scattered throughout an exotic location. Unfortunately, the films is entirely too linear -- the gang simply waltz from one adventure to the next until they crack the case and reach the Big Finale. The director apparently assumed you are already so familiar with the characters that further development is unnecessary. But the real problem with the film is that it can't decide if it's for adults of for kids, and its attempts to please folks of all ages make it a mess of contradictions. And the occasionally great CGI effects do little to prevent the picture from becoming a crashing bore. I have no doubt that another film in the series is already in the works, but, as of now, I have little interest in seeing this franchise continue.
And hey look: I just reviewed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well!

At least Scooby Doo had the good sense to keep its running time below an hour and a half -- at 161 minutes Chamber of Secrets is too long by an hour. This is mostly due to the fact that, like the first Potter picture, Chamber of Secrets isn't so much a movie as it is a book-on-film. In other words, rather than taking the essence of the novel and making a movie out of it (as Peter Jackson did so masterfully with The Fellowship Of The Ring), writer Steven Kloves seemingly loaded the book up in Microsoft Word and then selected "Save As [Screenplay]".
No doubt the reason they opted to preserve nearly every paragraph of the book is because kids would howl if any major scene was omitted, even those irrelevant to the overall story (as many are). But this is essentially my beef with both the Potter films and books: they can't decide if they are for kids or adults. J.K. Rowling fills her stories with tons of backstory and exposition to lend credibility to the narrative, but then resorts to cartoon logic at seemingly random moments. (In one scene, Harry and his friends encounter a seemingly bottomless pit and gamely leap into it without a second thought.) Now, I have no objection to "cartoon logic" movies -- heck, Iron Giant is one of my favorite flicks -- but inconsistency drives me crazy. Rowling oscillates between the historical style of J.R.R. Tolkien and and logic-free style of Lewis Carroll.
Also! (I'm on a roll, now.) At one point I swear Harry Potter said "I only know one spell!". And Ron Weasley goes through the entire year with a wand that doesn't function. I thought American schools had gotten lax, but apparently in England you can be in your second year of a Witchcraft and Wizardy School and still not know your ass from a leaky cauldron.
(Okay, I think I'm done ranting now.)
(Nope, apparently not.)
And another thing! What the hell kind of middle name is 'Marvolo'?!! Funny how we never heard it until Rowling needed to do some ridiculous anagram mumbo-gumbo!
(I'm done.)
Many critics have said that Chamber of Secrets is "Better than the first film". That's true, but also damning with faint praise. I liked the first Potter movie, but that was largely because it was the first film -- like Star Wars: A New Hope, The Sorcerer's Stone is not great, but at least it's new. But Chamber of Secrets ain't no Empire Strikes Back, that's for sure.
The third Potter book is my favorite, so perhaps there's hope for this series yet. But Prisoner of Azkaban has 435 pages, so if they film #3 as they have #1 and #2 (i.e., using the novel as the screenplay) the film is going to be seven weeks long. Frankly I doubt I'll see it and find out, since I found this film to be such a yawner. Chamber of Secrets isn't terrible, but it's about as far from spellbinding as a movie about magic can be. Posted on December 03, 2002 to Movies





Comments

I always thought the term was "mumbo-jumbo." Pronounced after the hypen in the same fashion as the famous elephant's name.

However, I do like the sound of mumbo-gumbo, bringing to mind as it does both witchcraft and tasty soup. Little shrimps holding voodoo dolls, stuff like that.

Posted by: Michael Van Vleet on December 4, 2002 3:06 PM

So I have a question for the Potter fans. I've not read the books, but I've heard only rave reviews for them (from adults - specifically saying that the books are good for adults). The movie was said to be not as good as the book, but still quite good an pretty faithful. So I thought I'd watch the movie and, if I liked it, pick up one of the books.

So I just saw the FIRST movie, and maybe it was all the hype, but I was real disappointed. It was quite imaginative and I think that it's probably tremendously entertaining to the kids (questionable messages notwithstanding*).

But for the adults, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I guess my biggest problem was that the protagonists never have to make any effort to overcome the various hurdles. They were always saved through dumb luck, through someone else coming to the rescue, or through casting a silly two-word Latin spell or (worse yet) inadvertently using magic on the bad guy. (Don't want to be too specific but you know what I mean, at the end of the movie there). There is never any figuring out a clever solution to the problem or perhaps reaching inside oneself to triumph over adversity or anything like that. These to me are necessary ingredients for good conflict-driven adult (not porn, but just not intended for kids) fiction but were entirely lacking in the Sorcerer's Stone.

Sorry this is taking so long. The question is: does the book suffer from the above problem? A followup question is: if so, what is the big appeal? I applaud the imaginativeness, but it's no more imaginitive than any decent fantasy novel.

I will be shocked if anyone has read this far, and even moreso if anyone responds. :-)

* The messages being:
1. If there's a problem, don't tell adults: try to address it yourself.
2. If you're not born with special powers you'll never amount to nothin' (i.e. genetics matter more than character).

Posted by: rich on December 4, 2002 7:12 PM

Like you, rich, I haven't read the Potter books (but have seen both movies). But if you're looking for grown-up themes in fiction ostensibly aimed at kids, I can highly recommend Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

Posted by: Rory on December 5, 2002 3:09 AM

I have read the entire Harry Potter Series. Twice. The movies are okay. That's it. Just okay. I buy them as they come out, and see them as they come out, but am not extremely impressed. Rich your post was too long for me to absorb anything from it. It said something about Harry Potter. Terribly sorry, Rich.

Posted by: Simon on December 6, 2002 12:01 AM

I read the series. I think it would do you good to read the 1st book and use that as a measure on whether to buy the rest. I proscribe to always seeing the movie and then reading the book for any series. This is no exception. Read each book after the corresponding movie comes out, but only after reading the 1st book and liking it... So there

Posted by: boomratt on December 10, 2002 1:04 PM