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As a fan of the J.K. Rowling’s novels, it is a foregone conclusion that I am really going to like the subject matter of the movie adaptations and be more than partial to the movies themselves. Okay, putting on my film critic cap, I can honestly say that I enjoyed HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS ($30) more than the film version of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. Being the first movie adaptation of the enormously popular book series, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE had heaps of exposition to get through, which would set up the story and characters for a film audience that had never read the novels. Additionally, since the Harry Potter books are so popular, the filmmakers seemed afraid to make any major cuts in the novel’s narrative for fear of alienating Harry Potter’s legions of fans.

Although HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS closely follows the storyline as laid out in the novel, it doesn’t do so in the slavish fashion of the first film. Additionally, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS isn’t mired down in an avalanche of exposition, which allows the film to hit the ground running. For this reason, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is a snappier, better-paced movie than HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, which is probably why I found it more enjoyable than its predecessor.

As the film opens, we find young boy wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) ready to begin his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, a house elf named Dobby warns Harry of an evil plot against him, and that he must not return to the school. Unfazed by Dobby's warning, Harry is soon reunited with has best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the three of them make their return to Hogwarts for their second year of study. One evening, shortly after their arrive at Hogwarts, a dire message is written on a school corridor wall in blood announcing: "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Enemies of the heir, Beware!" From one of their teachers, our three intrepid heroes learn that the legendary Chamber of Secrets is said to contain a horrible monster, which begins preying on the students- leaving them in stone like petrified condition. With the faculty unable to protect the student body, Harry, Ron and Hermione take it upon themselves to find the Chamber of Secrets and what lies waiting within. The superb supporting cast of HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS features Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Julie Walters, John Cleese and Miriam Margolyes.

Warner Home Video has made HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS available on DVD in a very good-looking 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. A separate full screen version is also being released, for those not interested in trying to recreate the theatrical experience. Unlike HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, which looked pretty awful theatrically, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS started with a much-improved theatrical presentation that translates into a noticeably better transfer and DVD. Perhaps not as crisp and finely detailed as some other new movies- HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS still delivers in terms of image resolution. Colors tend to be quite vibrant and generally favor the warmer side of the spectrum. Flesh tones appear quite natural or intentionally unnatural, depending on the circumstance. Neither chroma noise nor signs of smearing are present to detract from the viewing experience. Blacks are perfectly deep, whites are clean and contrast is smooth. For some reason, shadow detail isn’t always up to snuff, with some sequences coming across as murky and less dimensional than the better-lit portions of the film. The film element used for the transfer appears pristine and there is very little by way of a noticeable grain structure. Digital compression artifacts always remain in check throughout.

While HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS comes with a very good sounding Dolby Digital EX 5.1 channel soundtrack, the sound mix isn’t what I would call demonstration quality. The mix isn’t as aggressive as I would have like, especially in terms of surround usage. This isn’t to say that the rear channels are underutilized, just that the mix lacks that "gee wiz" maelstrom of sounds from the rear channels that surround junkies like myself eagerly look forward to. Fidelity is very good and the forward soundstage creates very nice stereo imaging, especially where John William’s score is concerned. Dialogue is always cleanly rendered and completely understandable. The bass channel is full bodied; although there is only one or two sequences in which I would call it ground shaking. A Spanish 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s nicely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Very little by way of supplemental material is included on disc one of this two disc set, with almost everything being relegated to the second DVD. Contained on disc one is a theatrical trailer for HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, a theatrical trailer for HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, plus a cast & crew listing.

Moving onto the second DVD, one will find it to be much more "adult friendly" than the supplemental disc included with HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. While the majority of materials still seem primarily geared towards a younger audience, the much disliked necessity of have "solve puzzles" to view the supplements had not be implemented on this DVD. I should also mention that the supplements are a bit more balanced, offering some featurettes that will actually appeal to adult viewers. Starting things off on disc two are nineteen deleted scenes, totaling seventeen minutes, have the options of being viewed individually or all together. Some of the deleted scenes and scene extensions are worthy of being incorporated back into the body of the film, while the others were cut for good reason.

The section marked Behind Hogwarts offers the real meat of the supplemental section with a number of interesting programs and other errata. A Conversation With J.K. Rowling And Steve Kloves offers a sixteen-minute discussion of adapting the book to the cinematic realm. Build a Scene: Dumbledore's Office offers a sixteen-minute look at the creation of the movie's most elaborate set, as well as a glimpse at the movie's props, wardrobe, FX work and even the musical score. Tour Dumbledorf's Office is a 3D virtual tour of the headmaster's office. Interviews With Students, Professors And More offers brief interviews with various cast members, who talk about their roles in the movie. The Gallery of Production Sketches is broken down into subsections, but offers well over one hundred images to peruse.

Other supplements are geared towards the younger viewers, so I didn't spend too much time sampling them. In the Activities area one will find interactive features such as The Chamber Challenge, The Forbidden Forest Challenge, Colin's Darkroom and Tour Diagon Alley. Spellcaster Knowledge is another section, which tests the viewer's memory of particular spells that were cast in the film. Lockhart's Classroom is a mildly humorous recap of the career of the film's vain and self-absorbed Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher. The Extra Credit section is where the set's plentiful DVD-ROM content resides. Also included is a Game Preview for the Electronic Arts game that bears the film and book's title.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is a delightful film that lives up to this fan's expectations of a movie adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel. Personally, I found this second film to be superior to its predecessor in almost every way. Not being bogged down with exposition, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is a snappier and better-paced movie. As for the Widescreen DVD, it is a total winner. It looks great, sounds very good and offers more accessible and worthwhile supplements for an adult audience. Bottom line, Harry Potter fans are going to buy this DVD no matter what I say about it. But isn't it nice to know you are getting your money's worth?


Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (Widescreen Edition) (2002)


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
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DVD reviews are Copyright 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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