Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Wonder Boy 

Harry Potter's second adventure delights exactly like the first.

Ginny Weasley and Harry are floored by the Chamber of Secrets.
  • Ginny Weasley and Harry are floored by the Chamber of Secrets.

So, you wish to know if Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is as good as its precursor. Is it as charming, visually gratifying, faithful to filthy-rich author J.K. Rowling's inescapable books? Well, that'd be yep times four, as it's definitely an enchanting spectacular for Potter fans anxious to ride the Hogwarts Express toward a new year of magic and mischief.

Let us also note that the project, though successful, bears some minor handicaps. At 161 protracted minutes, it's a bit unwieldy for a children's film, and with its peculiar dearth of wit -- the most amusing line is mewled by a ghost (awesome Shirley Henderson) offering Harry the use of her toilet -- it probably won't keep discerning adults hooked throughout. Once again, people's director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and clunky screenwriter Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) cleave very tightly to Rowling's narrative, cutting loose only to compress her character-rich exposition or gussy up her trim little action scenes, but that's not the glitch. The problematic issue -- magnified by unshakable déjà vu -- is that in this now-familiar setting, the author's wonder boys and girls engage us largely in spite of their cinematic handlers' perfunctory treatment, not because of it.

That said, from the soaring opening notes of John Williams's truly magnificent score (reprised from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, adapted here by William Ross, and more deft and spellbinding than Howard Shore's award-winning Lord of the Rings music), the magic is back. We descend upon a ghastly prefab subdivision (à la Time Bandits) to find Dickensian orphan and fledgling wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, into it) held hostage by his grotesque, Roald Dahlish foster family (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, and Harry Melling). Like many a second-year student, all Harry wants to do is return to his true home, in this case the Chocolate Factory that is Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Enter Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones, CG-animated as this film's Jar Jar Binks or Gollum), a grody little house elf who appears very inconveniently in Harry's spartan bedroom to warn him that he mustn't return to Hogwarts or he'll be doomed. Imagine a Martin Short clone, incessantly referring to himself in the third person, informing you that he's purloined all the letters sent to you by your friends so as to ensure your loneliness and detachment from your alma mater. You'd beat the crap out of him, right? Well, Harry's not the belligerent sort, and besides, Dobby illustrates a perverse predilection for self-abuse, so the message is the point: Grave -- if logistically confounding -- danger is afoot.

After narrowly escaping with earnest friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in Ron's dad's flying, turquoise Ford Anglia, Harry's adventure begins. As with any series, neophytes may find themselves grasping desperately for handles as characters and concepts whiz past, but brief stops at the funky, magical Weasley abode, the Burrow (well inhabited by Billy Elliot's Julie Walters, 101 Dalmatians' Mark Williams, and -- in a limited but pivotal role -- young Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley), plus the creepy, gothed-out Knockturn Alley keep both Harry and us on our toes. Immediately thereafter, at the magical market Diagon Alley, many key players light up the screen, including Hogwarts' coarse, lovable groundskeeper, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry's decreasingly presumptuous cohort Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and the wildly narcissistic author and professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh, who'd gleefully upstage God). Nasty folk also ring in the new school year, including little Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his malevolent dad, Lucius (Jason Isaacs), who may have summoned the unspeakable evil of Dobby's warning.

Once at Hogwarts, that grand edifice of dreams and nightmares (way to go, production designer Stuart Craig!), the plot becomes both more convoluted and more episodic. Said evil stalks the halls and communicates in snake language with Harry -- seems the boy's, you know, a Parselmouth -- but whimsical lessons continue under the tutelage of professors McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Snape (Alan Rickman), and Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), as well as headmaster Albus Dumbledore (good night, Richard Harris, genius actor). The pacing is club-footed, but the visuals -- from zooming aerial Quidditch to loads of weird bogeys and transformations -- are utterly sensational.

The legacy of Harry Potter in popular culture remains to be seen -- those who'd burn the books as demonic are encouraged to get library cards pronto -- but at present, despite its sophomoric awkwardness, the film of Chamber of Secrets is a welcome delivery of childlike wonder for a planet of ever-increasing ugliness. We've accidentally allowed a retarded monkey to rule America, but otherwise it's not such a whimsical place. Perhaps works like this can help set that to rights.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Latest in Screens

More by Gregory Weinkauf

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show @ Cedar Lee Theatre

    • First Saturday of every month

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation