Christian Critics Split on Second Harry Potter
Harry Potter and Company are growing up on the big screen. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is taller and his voice is deeper. His best friend Ron (Rupert Grint) has a waver in his voice too. The clever and somewhat haughty Hermione (Emma Watson) is looking more like a promising prom date for one of them. And the challenges the three amigos face in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have gotten more frightening.
When Harry makes a dramatic return to the campus at Hogwarts School for Wizards, he discovers that there is danger on the loose. A mysterious villain has opened a "chamber of secrets" and unleashed a powerful monster that is turning students into stone. Harry, once again smarter than his teachers, must investigate the mystery with his two loyal friends and break school rules along the way.
The new adventure is told with more confidence, better pacing, and more elaborate special effects. Columbus turns down the volume on sentimentality and the John Williams score, and makes Chamber of Secrets funnier and more exciting than Sorcerer's Stone. But it is also long and scarier than the first movie—much scarier. Parents should think twice before buying tickets for small children. The spiders and snakes preying on poor Harry are the stuff of serious nightmares.
But moviegoers will probably find this episode more compelling for several reasons. The idea of hidden villains is increasingly more real to us, as reports of terrorists and snipers dominate the news.
New grownup cast members Kenneth Branagh, Rosemary Harris, Miriam Margolyes, and The Patriot's Jason Isaacs bring so much humor and enthusiasm to the proceedings, they'll make George Lucas's straitjacketed Star Wars actors want to switch franchises.
Moreover, Chamber provides many moral lessons. Harry is again tempted to use his talents for evil, but he learns that a hero is defined not by abilities, but by choices. Viewers will find that the story also has other things on its mind: the challenges of adolescence and the problems of prejudice. My exploration of this Potter episode is posted at Looking Closer.
Most mainstream reviewers herald Potter's return as reason to celebrate. Roger Ebert calls it "a glorious movie. What's developing here, it's clear, is one of the most important franchises in movie history. J.K. Rowling … has created a mythological world as grand as Star Wars, but filled with more wit and humanity."
But Peter T. Chattaway (Vancouver Courier) says, "Instead of making great cinema or great drama out of Rowling's book, [the filmmakers] faithfully cram as many of the book's plot twists as possible into their two-and-a-half-hour running time. In doing so, they unintentionally sacrifice much of the story's personality and charm."
Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com) agrees: "Columbus doesn't understand the difference between adaptation and painstaking translation: He moves along from plot point to plot point as if he were filling in a giant sheet of graph paper."
Religious press critics widely disagreed about the film. (An early review was included in last week's edition.)
Michael Medved claims the film is vastly better than the first installment in the series.
But Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says, "What the first story had that this sequel necessarily lacks—and has nothing to make up for—is the thrill of discovery, the sense of wonder. Without the advantage of novelty it feels 20 or 30 minutes too long." Marie Asner (The Phantom Tollbooth) and John Evans (Preview) agree that the film's running time is "a bit trying."