Thursday, December 16, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

To prepare for the Friday release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a few friends and I have decided to re-watch the movies in order. After watching The Chamber of Secrets, I don't know if we'll be able to make it to Friday.

I managed to miss the first film entry, The Sorcerer's Stone due to alcohol-related scheduling conflicts. If The Chamber of Secrets is any indication, I should probably be glad that I did. Harry's second outing is over-long, overwrought, and under-cooked.

"But Jim," you say. "How can it be all three of those?"

Rock, paper, scissors my friend. This movie is caught in a catch-22.

It's over-long because it's under-cooked. 
How many goddamned times did they go into that bathroom with that ear-bleedingly annoying ghost? Like 5? If you're revisiting the same set more than twice in a fantasy movie, you've got fat to trim Chris. There's actually a plot point that takes an entire semester to unravel! This pacing can work in book form because, contrary to popular belief, books are far more accessible than movies. We can really move into the world and enjoy going through the semester with the kids. But in a movie form this feels bloated. The Chamber of Secrets is almost three hours long when it could have been a lean, mean 2 hour adventure if it had just stayed on the editor's grill a little longer.

It's overwrought because it's over-long.
The titular chamber and the violence it inflicts on the denizens of Hogwarts is certainly a worthy MacGuffin. However, with so much space to fill, the plot becomes complicated to the point of confusion. There are tangents twisting everywhere, from a fantasy form of racism to a totally superfluous Quidditch match. There is a house-elf responsible for miles of plot machination whose motives are never explained. When it takes Harry a good thirty minutes to even get to the school, you know it's going to be an overly ornate affair. And these 13 year old actors pinwheel between the three same emotions through all the incomprehensible set-pieces and characters: worry, concern, and fear. If I never see Daniel Radcliff with mouth agape again, it will be too soon.

It's under-cooked because it's overwrought.
With so many scenes to film and characters to enliven, it feels like the post-production team just ran out of gas. From a special effects perspective, it looks like they started with the spiders which are genuinely unsettling. Then they tackled the basilisk. Then they said, "Shit! we still have the bird, the magic, the Quidditch, those little blue fuckers in the cage, the ghosts, the hat, the car, the house, the cake, the...the.... AND WE STILL NEED TO EDIT THIS THING!" The Quidditch match, in particular, looks like it belongs on a TNT Sunday afternoon special. Were there fewer pieces to focus on, those that remain could have been polished to perfection instead of the uneven mess we're left with.

The Chamber of Secrets was doomed in a vicious cycle of follies all sprung from an inability to more forcefully edit the plot down to size. But, even with all that vitriol being spewed, I have to admit the flick is not with out its charms. The discovery of blood-written messages is genuinely unsettling and the arachnaphobe in me was in contortions from the spiders. But a handful of more mature moments do not justify hours of hackneyed torment.

What could have saved this mess? I dunno...Guillermo Del Toro? What's that you say? He directed the third? Oh dear god let's hope it didn't get the better of him.

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