Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

Reading The Chamber Of Secrets is a bit like going to an alternate universe where in the promise of The Sorcerer’s Stone failed to develop into anything all that special, instead cycling back into a harmless but hardly exceptional series of children’s books.

Chamber Of Secret’s falls into so many of the traps that Rowling was so successful at avoiding for most of the series. “Cute” side characters, by the numbers plotting, red herrings so abundant that entire chapters could be entitled “filler”.

It is Rowling so it is not wholly without charm, though most of it is to be found around the edges of the uninspired story she was telling (Though in all fairness, Rowling did weave in some seeds of the macro plot in here quite gracefully. She’s also displays her skill of laying in detail early, before we even know what it means such as her off hand reference here to “The Azkaban guard.”) Concepts such as the howler, or details of life in The Weasly’s overflowing home the burrow, and her warm wit and skill with a one liner makes the story much more bearable then it might have been.

There’s just not a whole lot to say. Rowling eventually does bring in some interesting concepts, and some dark ideas and imagery, but the whole thing seems a little thin. As if Rowling is simply not playing to her full potential.

Luckily that would all change with the next book, but despite the fact that it undeniably has its moments, I find Chamber easier to appreciate as a look down the road not taken.

The Chamber Of Secret’s ends up being a better movie, then The Sorcerer’s Stone. Note I did not say a good movie.

Setting the template of the lesser Potter books making the better Potter movies. Chamber breaths a bit better, has a stronger more cinematic feel but once again fails to reach the level of the novel. Even this one.

If the key bad habit of the Potter movies is playing like a hurried checklist of scenes then its sister flaw has to be the expanding of the most superfluous scenes into inexplicable set pieces because some studio exec is nervous about the lack of action.

This rears its head first in Secrets, which the Ford Angelina sequence. A scene merely ill thought out and dull in the book, which through the magic of cinema is transformed into a scene that is ill thought out and dull as well as loud, drawn out, stupid, and unpleasantly manic.

The film’s problems are as always partially offset by excellent casting. Joining the cast this go out is Jason Issacs in particularly good form as the imperiously aristocratic Lucious Malfoy. And Kenneth Braunaugh, who I usually have a Pavlovian Dog like reaction of frothing hatred to thanks to his performance/direction/wholesale mutilation of Frankenstein (Which has made for some uncomfortable screenings of Hamlet let me tell you) actually makes the character of Lockheart work better on screen then in the page. Bringing to life his vapid pomposity and self regard (things that the real Braunaugh surely knows nothing about) in away that makes a character out of a caricature.

It’s hard to get all that worked up over Chamber Of Secrets at this point either as a book or a film. They’re not offensively bad, both just fall short of were they should be. No matter how you look at it, both the book and film series needed a swift kick in the ass.

Which is luckily just what they got with the next installment, the most satisfying installment of the series in both the book and film versions.


Budd said...

Hmmm. Prizoner of azkaban was good but my favorite book is goblet of fire. Azkaban was the best of the movies I have seen.

Bryce Wilson said...

Can't fault you there. Goblet is an excellent read, and I'm looking forward to revisiting it.