With the final installment of the Harry Potter movie franchise coming out, we thought it would be fun to revisit the phenomenon with a special edition series of Harry Potter Book v Movie columns.
By: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Copyright Date: US Edition June 1999 (This edition 4 Oct 2004)
Number of Pages: 256
Format: Hardback, Adult Edition
Reason for Reading: It’s Harry Potter, do we need a reason?
Director: Chris Columbus
Release Date: November 15, 2002 (USA)
Running Time: 161 minutes
IMDB Linkage: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0295297/
THE BOOK: Though still largely considered a YA book, JK Rowling took a decidedly darker tone with Year Two of the Harry Potter series. House Elves and Spiders and Basilisks, Oh My! Dobby, a house elf, appears in Harry’s bedroom to warn him of shenanigans galore afoot at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry, as any respectful hero would do, completely ignores Dobby’s warning and hightails it to Hogwarts anyway. Not long after his epic arrival (flying cars and whomping willows, indeed!) a muggle-born student is attacked, petrified by some unknown magic, and whispers and rumors about the monster housed in the mythic Chamber of Secrets spread amongst the student body like wildfire. In this installment, JK Rowling handily introduces multiple new magical creatures and characters (including the unctuous and self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart), expands on the mythology of the founders of Hogwarts, and sets up an enduring allegory about tolerance and race relations which will resonate throughout the remainder of the series. The Chamber of Secrets doesn’t entirely leave behind the whimsy of Book One (none of the books are lacking in whimsy!), but it becomes clear that child Harry is fighting very grown-up war.
THE MOVIE: Christopher Columbus directed this second outing with much the same slavish devotion as he did the first. It seems disingenuous to claim that as a fault, when one of the primary complaints book-lovers have about movie adaptations in general is Hollywood’s tendency to stray from the author’s vision. The problem inherent here is that the sense of terror, the urgency which is so palpable in the book is almost entirely missing in the movie. For example, Ron’s fear of spiders is played up as more of a joke, while the book depiction of the same scene has a creeping menace that brings an entirely different nuance to the scene. It just seemed simplistic, especially when compared to risks taken by later directors. Christopher Columbus is a fantastic director and a great choice for the first movie, but the second might have been better served with a director with different sensibilities and more finesse.
The acting, however, was spot-on, particularly by the adult actors. Kenneth Branaugh’s depiction of Gilderoy was quite amusing and Richard Harris’s final performance as Dumbledore was genuinely moving. The core cast was still a bit too young and inexperienced, but it was clear that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint had terrific natural talent and room to grow.
THE VERDICT: No contest. The book. By like a million points.