Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2004) / Fantasy-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for scary images, violence, and mild language
Running Time: 141 min.

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Screenplay: Steven Kloves (based on the book by J.K. Rowling)
Review published June 7, 2004

Harry Potter, you bore me. 

The first Harry Potter film had newness on its side -- a sense of discovery and wonder that worked well, despite the fact that it wasn't the best example of great narrative structure. The sequel, Chamber of Secrets did little to build on the momentum, giving us the same characters in similarly perilous situations, bloated to the max with scenes that drag and side characters that did little but annoy. 

Despite my tepid feelings toward the franchise, my hopes were still a bit higher for this third adventure, primarily because a new director would be involved in Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Great Expectations), and a decidedly darker tone than the previous films.  To my dismay, what didn't work in the last film also is the problem with this third installment: the characters are wafer-thin eccentrics, the plot meanders, and the situations remain unmoving.  It's really little more than fanciful imagery and disjointed bits of tumult, packaged together so that fans of the book can see the things they read about and compare how closely the images corresponded to the ones created in their own mind's eye.

As for the plot, it's another year at Hogwarts for Harry, and another one filled with danger as escaped prisoner, Sirius Black (Oldman, The Fifth Element), may be out on a mission to take Potter's life.  In response, the prison has dispatched Dementors, fearsome apparitions, to stand guard around Potter and wait for the inevitable appearance of Black at the school.  However, there's much more than meets the eye, as Harry finds out much more about his parents, and the events that led to their demise.

If you're just wild about Harry, nothing I can do or say will probably dissuade you from enjoying this film, despite the fact that it isn't very compelling.  You love to read his adventures, love the characters, love the imagery, cohesive storyline be damned.  Take the kids, sit for three hours and convince yourself you are watching a cinematic gem to last for all time.

If you haven't been impressed with the first two films, save your money.  Prisoner of Azkaban doesn't try to improve on the weaknesses to Columbus' vision so much as to try not to deviate too much from it.  The plot is barely a blip on the radar for most of the first half, as we watch a tedious array of tangential scenes that might be fun to read about amid the leisurely pacing of a long book, but do little except ensure apathy despite all of the whimsical sights and sounds.  By the time the film does get moving, it's too little, too late.  What happens between Harry and Sirius Black?  What's the connection to Harry's parents?  What about the werewolf sideplot? 

The answer to all of these things is, "Who cares?"  Unless you are a hardcore Harry Potter fanatic, or a complete sheep that sees anything that is sufficiently hyped enough, this third entry is a messy, muddled snoozefest that only eye-candy addicts and J.K. Rowling zealots could truly be enthralled with.

I was a prisoner of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and after the 2 hour and 20 minute sentence, I am quite glad to finally be released.  I'll reluctantly await the obligatory fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and truly hope Mike Newell can make his turn more than what Columbus and Cuaron did not -- something fun and interesting for the non-readers of Potter from beginning to end.

-- Follows Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and followed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

  Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo