The Harry Potter Film Rewatch Project #2
Spoiler Warning for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Harry Potter Film Rewatch Project! Here we tackle the second movie, fortunately one that only has one title so there’s no arguing with it!
It is also, sadly, the last film with Richard Harris as Dumbledore, as he died before the US premiere, with the film being dedicated in his memory. This is a pity, because I actually really like his Dumbledore, and of the two I must admit that I prefer him. I’m not taking Jude Law into account because I haven’t actually seen that movie mind you. It is also the last Harry Potter movie to have been directed by Chris Columbus which…eh? We’ll get into that as the movie goes on. Speaking of which, let’s go!
We open at the Dursley’s home, with Harry looking at a photo album made up of pictures of his parents given to him by Hagrid and Hedwig locked in a cage, unable to exercise. Which…is just really cruel of the Dursleys, and something I never registered before. Let the bird out for pity’s sake, she needs exercise! Oh, and Harry’s in an upstairs bedroom now. In the book he was put in it shortly after the first letter from Hogwarts arrived, an attempt to dissuade the letters by changing his location. But the first movie didn’t have that sequence, so this is our first time seeing him up there. Harry gets called down by his uncle and told to keep Hedwig quiet because they have guests coming over. Harry protests that she needs exercise, but is shot down because they’re afraid that he’ll use Hedwig to…send letters. Okay, so they’re specifically worried about him being able to communicate, not the relative strangeness of an owl flying to their house every night. Oh jeez.
But it’s a moot point because apparently Harry hasn’t been getting any letters either. Moving on for now, we learn that Harry’s role in the upcoming small party is to stay up in his room and pretend that he doesn’t exist which…okay, I just have to point out how utterly abnormal this is. Seriously, I know that the Dursley’s don’t like Harry, but that’s specifically because they have very strong feelings about normalcy and pretending he doesn’t exist isn’t exactly ‘normal’.
Regardless, Harry is resigned to this sort of treatment, and quietly goes up to his room where he is met by…another reason these films should have been animated if they were going to do this in the early 2000’s. Look, Dobby isn’t terrible? He looks better than the CGI quidditch players from the first movie at the very least. But he never really seems like he’s actually there, and Daniel Radcliffe always is looking three feet behind where Dobby’s supposed to be. Actually, I say animated, but Dobby’s small enough that he could have feasibly been done with puppetry. Seriously Warner Bros, you had to have known these movies weren’t gambles and you’d make your money back, go talk to the Henson people and get this fixed up proper!
Dobby proceeds to explain his nature as a House Elf, and attempt to warn Harry away from returning to Hogwarts. I know that the general nature of House Elves and how they’re treated in the world of Harry Potter is a contentious one in the fandom, but I’m not going to address it because well…the movies never do. Dobby won’t appear again until the penultimate film, and the next House Elf we’ll see period is in the fifth film. By and large I’m going to try and focus on dealing with the movies as their own separate universe. So, much like how I won’t dive into the Dursley’s treatment of Harry because the films gloss over it so much, I’m likewise going to avoid this issue. Maybe if S.P.E.W. was ever established in the films I’d do it later, but it’s not so I won’t.
As for warning Harry away, how open was Lucius about his plans? Did he discuss them with Narcissa? Given how protective of Draco we see her in later instances, I can’t imagine she’d be down for him releasing a great evil in the school while their son was attending. Was he talking about these plans with his Death Eater buddies? That seems foolish. Maybe he just sleep exposits? Regardless, Harry refuses to stay away from Hogwarts because it’s where his friends are. Dobby points out that those friends haven’t actually written to Harry at any point, which keys Harry into realizing that something is up. After a bit of nervous stammering, Dobby admits that the reason Harry hasn’t been getting any letters is that he’s been intercepting them, hoping that if Harry feels like he doesn’t have friends he won’t want to go back to Hogwarts. Which is frankly just messed up. Does nobody who either does or is supposed to care about Harry have any sense of what is an isn’t healthy for the poor boy?
Harry, understandably, is not happy with this discovery and moves to take the letters. Dobby is not happy with his refusal to choose not to return to Hogwarts and pops down to the main floor, where he uses magic to lift up the dessert and drop it on the Dursley’s guests in an attempt to get Harry so punished he won’t be allowed to go to Hogwarts. And, uhm, look at Dobby’s face!
That is not the face of someone reluctant to put someone they supposedly care about in danger! He’s happy about what he’s doing! And sure enough, Harry does get punished, locked in his bedroom with bars placed over his window. Which, again, is a decidedly abnormal thing to do, but whatever. Harry spends an undetermined amount of time up in his room, until Ron and his siblings Fred and George show up in their family’s flying car in the middle of the night to take him to their home. This leads us to the first of a couple scenes where the action is escalated for the sake of making a more visually interesting film. In both versions the Dursley’s wake up and see Harry leaving. After all, the Weasleys have to rip the bars covering the window off the wall in order to get in the window. In the book though, they don’t get into Harry’s room until after he’s locked the door, whereas in the movie, his uncle not only gets in, he and Ron play an impromptu game of tug-of-war using Harry as the rope, which results in the uncle falling out the second story window onto the ground. And strangely, Harry doesn’t even seem worried that he possibly just broke his uncle’s spine. I mean, we find out that he’s fine, but Harry doesn’t care to check.
We then go to the Weasley’s home, the Burrow. It’s a remarkably tall building that works off of impractical architecture, made possible by magic (though admittedly, that’s not stated by anyone in the movie). We quickly learn that Ron and the twins did not actually ask permission to take the family car and that their mother is understandably very upset. Though she seems noticeably less upset, or at least less apoplectic, than in the book. Either way, eventually Mr. Weasley arrives at the house, having apparently spent the whole night at the office and thus frankly in really good shape for someone who could very well have been awake for a full 24 hours. We get some talking and character exposition, namely that Ron’s little sister is super shy and that Mr. Weasley is in love with Muggle stuff, and then the family owl arrives, demonstrating his age by crashing into a window. He was carrying the school shopping lists, including Harry’s since apparently Dumbledore noticed him being moved.
They then decide to head off to Diagon Alley for shopping fairly immediately. I mean, there could be a time skip but none is implied, meaning that the next few scenes are all being done with Mr. Weasley having been awake for 24 hours (possibly more) and at least one of the Twins being awake for the same (the others might have slept in the car, but one Twin had to be awake to drive). And here we get an…odd change. The Weasley family uses Floo Powder to travel which…seems a little odd for this trip, since Floo Powder costs money and it would be only marginally more difficult to just use side-along Apparition. Though I guess Rowling hadn’t really named or codified the wizarding teleport trick at this point, so that’s more a retroactive issue than a big one.
The odd change though, is the order of events as compared to the book. Both versions have Harry mess up and wind up somewhere other than his destination, but how they go about causing that mistake is kind of strange. In the book, you throw the Floo Powder into the fire, and have to say the name through a rush of heat and soot that can be very disorienting if you’re not expecting it, and that can throw off your speech. In the film, you say the name, and then throw down the powder into an empty fireplace. So in the movie, Harry screws up with no real cause, and after being explicitly told by Mrs. Weasley that he needs to be very clear when speaking. So…yeah, film Harry is a bit of an idiot (something we’ll see more later).
Nothing much happens from here, at least nothing of consequence to either this movie or to the movies as a whole. Harry winds up in a creepy shop, gets briefly trapped by one of those hand grab things you see around Halloween
This, but without any candy to justify Harry’s choice.and he stumbles out only to be surrounded by creepy people who want to do…we’re not going to think about what they want to do to Harry, we’re just going to move on to him being saved by Hagrid. Who was apparently in the bad, black market part of town because it’s the only way to get flesh-eating slug repellent? The movie doesn’t dive into this and how this led Harry to briefly consider that Hagrid might be evil, so instead it just raises questions about the logistics of shopping in this place and why bug killer is in the ‘bad’ part of the district.
Regardless, Hagrid takes Harry to Flourish and Blotts, the wizarding bookstore, where the Weasleys and Hermione are. Apparently the Weasleys just sort of shrugged off the fact that Harry got separated from them with no way of knowing where he was and went shopping. This scene mainly serves to introduce us to two new characters, both blondes, both unlikable, and both played by very talented adult actors. Which, in turn, results in highlighting the problem of these first two films-the child acting.
I’m sorry, but it’s still bad and surrounding them with talents like Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, and Alan Rickman doesn’t help. I know that it’s not a problem for anyone else, the rest of you made it very clear in your comments that you liked everything I disliked about Emma Watson’s performance in particular, so don’t worry, this will be the last time I bring it up, since I do believe that it stops being a problem come the third movie. And at the very least, Kenneth Branagh is a great Lockhart and Jason Isaacs is an equally good Lucius Malfoy. The main points of the scene are to introduce the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for the year and to have Lucius be condescending and grab one of Ginny’s books for a reason that we don’t know yet. Lucius is not a subtle man.
Next we go to the day school begins, at King’s Cross. Everybody else goes in just fine, but for some reason Harry and Ron aren’t able to get in to Platform 9 3/4 and as such can’t get on the train. Being 12-year-olds and therefore kind of stupid, they decide the best option is to steal the Weasley family car and fly it to school. I guess if you can’t arrive at Hogwarts on the day term starts you can’t attend period? Must suck if you’re sick that day! And once again, though on a much larger scale than the escaping the Dursley’s bit, we get an escalation for the film. In the book they fly along above the train with no real problems until they actually get to Hogwarts. Here though, they wind up flying on the tracks just in front of the train, almost get hit, and then Harry almost falls out of the car and has to be pulled back in. It does, admittedly, get us this wonderful reaction from Ron when he realizes where they are in relation to the train.
But it is otherwise sort of padding to make the film have more action. They likewise land on the Whomping Willow rather than just crashing into it, but that’s a minor change. They are promptly scolded and punished, Harry getting detention with Lockhart while Ron gets detention with Filch (not that that latter bit ever really comes up in the film) and we move on to the next day. First we get the one Herbology lesson of the film, in which we again play a bit of adaptation catch up as Professor Sprout is shown onscreen for the first time (one wonders if she actually wanted to go into Herbology or was forced into it due to having a fitting name) and have the mandrakes introduced. Living, self aware plants that look like babies and are doomed to be brutally hacked to pieces.
We are also shown a Howler later on, one sent by Mrs. Weasley to yell at Ron. A Howler is a magical letter that speaks very loudly and that can’t be avoided. There is no shutting up a Howler, only getting it over with. This frankly seems like a very immature and foolish way to communicate, since it makes sure that literally everyone nearby can hear you being angry and what you’re angry about. Also, the envelope shifts into a mouth like origami to deliver the message. This is not book accurate, but a neat little visual touch.
From there we go to Lockhart’s class, where he unleashes a horde of pixies but proves incapable of subduing them, leaving Hermione to subdue them all. Literally all of them, with one spell. And thus begins the movies’ love of hyping up Hermione’s achievements, since in the book she could only do a couple at a time. And it never really comes up again, so we just move onto the next scene.
This one is a…well, I don’t want to call it an argument or fight really so I guess we’ll say confrontation between the Gryffindor and Slytherin quidditch teams. This is why I’m kind of meh about the loss of Chris Columbus after this movie. On the one hand, he was much more concerned with book loyalty than his successors, which is nice. On the other hand though, he has really weird ideas about pacing. As such, this scene in which two sets of hormonal teenage rivals who very much do not like each other dispute who has access to the quidditch pitch is less a heated argument and more a slow exchange of words, with lots of pauses and barely a raised voice until the end when Ron curses himself (his wand was broken when they crashed into the Whomping Willow so the spell backfires) after Draco calls Hermione a mudblood.
As an aside, that curse is very strange, as it contradicts how magic tends to work in Harry Potter. Normally one needs to speak fake Latin, but in both the book and the film Ron simply says ‘eat slugs’ and it works as an actual curse.
In a strange change, Hermione knows what the slur means and is deeply hurt by it. I say strange because Hermione is muggle-born, and so should have no more experience with that slur than Harry does. And in the book she doesn’t know what it is, and is as confused by what it means as Harry. Here though, Hermione is the one who explains what it is, and acts deeply hurt and as though it’s been something she’s dealt with her whole life. I guess the writers didn’t like the idea of Hermione not knowing something?
Then the title of the movie decides to make itself relevant, and the gang finds an ominous message written in what looks like blood next to a flooded bathroom and a petrified cat, declaring the Chamber of Secrets to be open. This raises certain questions about what the Chamber is, even from Hermione. In the book they learned about it from the History of Magic teacher, the only ghost on faculty Professor Binns. But since he, along with Peeves and most of the House ghosts, were cut, it instead falls onto McGonagall to teach them. Also, before that they’re learning to turn animals into cups, and Ron turns Scabbers into a furry goblet which…wow that must be really disconcerting for Peter! I assume that Percy likewise occasionally transfigured him, was he aware during that or did he have moments where he ‘died’?
Next up is the quidditch match for the movie (there will never be more than one match per movie, for better or for worse) in which a rogue bludger ignores everyone else to specifically focus on Harry. This is, once again, scaled up with Harry having to fly through the stands to try and shake off the thing, including a chase through the supports of the stadium that really ought to have brought the whole thing down given how much wood we see shattering. Harry does manage to eventually catch the snitch, but even the ending of the match doesn’t stop the bludger, forcing Hermione to disintegrate it (again, not something that happened in the book, Fred and George wrestled the thing to keep it away from Harry). Unfortunately the bludger did manage to break Harry’s arm, and Lockhart intercedes, attempting to heal it but instead vanishing all the bones.
Harry is then taken to the Hospital Wing to have his arm regrown, which is when he meets Dobby again. We learn that Dobby was the one who kept Harry and Ron out of the Platform, and who enchanted the bludger. Keeping him out of the Platform makes sense given Dobby’s goal of keeping Harry safe, but the bludger could very likely have killed him consider its persistence and how high up Harry frequently was. Bad Dobby!
The Elf leaves though when a petrified student (a Gryffindor first year named Colin Creevey) is brought in, clutching a ruined camera. This causes Dumbledore to declare that the Chamber of Secrets is definitely open…and he doesn’t immediately evacuate the school. I mean, they could have constructed a temporary school—we know building things quickly is not an issue for wizards and witches in this world and Dumbledore was present for the last time the Chamber was opened, but…he doesn’t. It’s not even like in the sixth installment, when Hogwarts was a heavily warded fortress against the enemy, now the enemy is inside! Sheesh Albus!
This does prompt the creation of a Dueling Club though, joint taught by Snape and Lockhart. They attempt to teach the students the disarming spell, Expelliarmus, but uhm… Okay, so there’s this weird and frankly lazy thing in this movie, where any spell used against a living creature has the exact same effect-a blast of white light that knocks them off their feet. Every single time! Three different spells get used on an opponent in this scene, and all three do the same thing, regardless of the incantation said! Also, there’s an odd continuity error where Lockhart loses his wand when hit by Snape’s Expelliarmus, then has it in his hand when he lands, loses it when he picks himself up, and when he’s up and walking he is clearly holding it. Lockhart decides to call up students to demonstrate, so he brings up Harry and Snape brings up Draco (I call him Draco because since Lucius is also present in this film it’d be odd to call one of them Malfoy). After both use spells that aren’t Expelliarmus but that do the exact same thing, Draco summons a cobra that, after a failed attempt by Lockhart to banish, ends up with it gearing up to strike a student. Once again we get a strange change in events between book and film. In both versions Harry speaks to the snake using Parseltongue, but where in the book Harry speaks to it after it turns to strike a Hufflepuff, in the film Harry speaks to it and then it turns to attack said Hufflepuff. Either way this ends poorly, with the students convinced that Harry was egging the snake on, but the film actually makes that a justified belief.
Harry’s display of a so called ‘evil’ power leads many to suspect that he’s the Heir of Slytherin, the one who opened the Chamber, and Harry is called up to Dumbledore’s office to talk to the Headmaster, but Dumbledore never suspected him of any wrong doing and just wanted to offer him a friendly ear. Nothing much comes of the scene aside from introducing Dumbledore’s pet phoenix though.
Desperate both to stop the attacks and to clear Harry’s own name, Hermione hatches a plan to create a shape-shifting potion in a girl’s bathroom, one haunted by a miserable former student named Myrtle. Harry and Ron will turn into Crabbe and Goyle, Hermione will turn into a female Slytherin who, to the best of my knowledge, never actually speaks, and they will get into the Slytherin common room and interrogate Malfoy, who they believe to be the Heir. This goes wrong in quite a few ways. The most drastic mess up is when it results in Hermione being turned into a half cat person, as the hair she used wasn’t from the girl but from the girl’s cat. Also, for some reason the potion doesn’t change the user’s voice for…some reason? I mean, I don’t know why it would change literally everything but their vocal chords. And Harry continues to be kind of dumb by not remembering to take his glasses off and by blurting out in defense of Dumbledore in the middle of the common room to Draco. And to top it all off, Draco isn’t the Heir and has no idea who it is.
Harry does, however, come across an enchanted diary that talks back when you write in it, and it proceeds to show Harry a flashback to when the Chamber last opened, and that Hagrid was the one framed for the opening (not that the diary says that he was framed mind you, but we all know by now). And then, because things just couldn’t get any worse, Hermione gets petrified. In an odd twist from its usual decisions though, they cut Hermione’s accomplishment of discovering what the monster of the Chamber is…for some reason.
The Ministry of Magic decides that they have to be seen doing something in the face of all these attacks on students, so they decide to toss Hagrid in Azkaban, the wizarding prison, and the Minister himself arrives when Harry and Ron are already visiting Hagrid under the invisibility cloak.
And to make matters worse, Lucius shows up to reveal that he’s part of the Board of Governors for Hogwarts, and that the Board has decided to kick out Dumbledore. Oh joy. Before they leave the hut though, Hagrid cryptically declares that if anyone wants answers, they can follow the spiders. Ron and Harry do so once all the adults are gone, taking them into the forest to meet a colony of giant spiders, who declare that Hagrid wasn’t the one behind the Chamber and then try to eat the two. Fortunately they’re saved by the Weasley family car, which appears to have become animalistic and capable of moving on its own.
Once they escape that little detour, they find out that Ginny is missing, having been dragged down into the Chamber (remember Ginny? She’s in this movie!) Enough is enough, so the two head off to talk to Lockhart after figuring out where the entrance to the Chamber is. He is packing up to leave though, having not expected anything of this magnitude. As one might of suspected, he is, in fact, a cowardly fraud who’s only real skill is for memory modification. Ron and Harry manage to disarm him though, and for some reason insist on bringing him to the Chamber. Why they’d do this, when the man has admitted that he won’t be of any real help, is a mystery to me, but there you go. They get to the Chamber in Myrtle’s bathroom (she was killed by the Monster you see, and so is the only one with knowledge as to its location) and Harry opens the Chamber with Parseltongue. They go down the slide to the Chamber itself, where Lockhart steals Ron’s wand and attempts to wipe the boys’ memory, deciding to just run away and let Ginny die. Fortunately, Ron’s wand is still broken and it backfires, wiping his memory instead. Unfortunately, this causes a cave in, separating Harry from Ron and forcing him to continue alone.
He then encounters the owner of the diary, and the actual Heir, Tom Riddle. Or as he wishes to be known, Lord Voldemort. Which is apparently an anagram of his full name (with the words I am) added. Apparently the diary contains a memory of Tom, and it has been leeching off of and possessing Ginny, making her open the Chamber and unleash the Monster while building the strength to get his own body. Obviously Tom’s not actually a memory, but Horcurxes hadn’t been invented yet so shh. Harry professes his loyalty to Dumbledore, causing the headmaster’s phoenix Fawkes to show up and give him…a hat. It’s the Sorting Hat, but I don’t feel like they did enough to make that clear in the actual movie.
Regardless, Tom laughs and unleashes the Monster of the Chamber, a basilisk, to kill Harry. And it almost does when Harry trips and loses his glasses, but fortunately Fawkes hasn’t left the Chamber and it claws out the snake’s eyes, giving Harry time to get still further away. They play cat and mouse for a little bit, until Harry gets back to where Tom and the unconscious Ginny are, where he finds the sword of Godric Gryffindor inside the Hat, even though he didn’t put the Hat on or ask for help or anything. It’s a relatively small sword to, at least by the standards of swords in the era Gryffindor was alive, though I suppose they needed something that Daniel Radcliffe could actually lift.
Now armed, Harry manages to kill the basilisk, stabbing it in the roof of his mouth (which will be important in the final two movies) but getting stabbed with a fang in return. Fortunately Fawkes is still on hand, and it cries on his wound, healing Harry and allowing him to ‘kill’ the diary with the basilisk fang, restoring Ginny. With Fawkes help Harry and company manage to escape the Chamber, finding that Dumbledore has returned…but that the Weasley parents didn’t show up. Or at the very least, it’s never shown or mentioned that they did, as opposed to in the book. I guess they figured that they had six other kids anyway? Lucius does show up though, largely so that Harry can trick him into freeing Dobby. Oh, and Hagrid returns!
This was definitely a better movie than the first one. And from the standpoint of being an adaptation, it’s probably the best in the series. It’s not a perfect movie my any means, I don’t even necessarily want to call it a great one, but it could certainly be worse! We’ll see this get much worse, that’s for certain.