Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 20 News List

Puberty and technology take their toll on Potter

In the second installment of the Harry Potter saga, director Chris Columbus bites off more than he can chew

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

The boy wizard is back and none too soon for Harry Potter fans. Both book and movie hit the jackpot the first time around, so that even though the first film ran for 152 minutes, many people still felt the need for more of the same. Director Christopher Columbus has certainly not lost his touch. The magical effects and the great yarn are all laid out before us, and with a lavish generosity. It is a bigger, richer and more engrossing helping than he gave us the first time around. But this is really part of the problem with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There is simply too much of it. And the story gets lost in the telling.

To get through the inordinate complexities of the second installment, Columbus is forced to drop almost all exposition. Admittedly it is safe to assume that large numbers of people are all too familiar with the basic elements of Harry Potter, his friends, his school, and the dark wizard who is his mortal enemy, but for those benighted enough to have missed out on one of the biggest publishing events of the 21 century, little or no effort is made to bring them into the picture.

For people who have read the book, Columbus' work serves as a whiz-bang graphical companion piece. But many of the more whimsical aspects of the work, which is what made the book's appeal reach beyond a child audience, have been omitted. While nothing detracts from the pleasure of watching Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane do their stuff, the pity is that they have so little screen time as Columbus rushes to package the plot and still leave room for the special effects, which are a major element.

Film Notes

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Directed by:

Christopher Columbus

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe(Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger),Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith, (Professor McGonagall)

Running time: 161 minutes

Taiwan Release: TODAY

The three main characters, Harry, Ron and Hermione continue to do a splendid job, but Radcliffe is beginning to show his age -- if you can say that of a 13 year old -- and the childlike qualities that made him appealing without being cute seem to come less naturally in Chamber of Secrets. It is accepted that with each book Harry matures one year, but his hormones seem to be getting a little ahead of the filmmaker's schedule and the danger of his sudden jump into spotty and unappealing adolescence seems to present a much greater danger than whatever lies in the chamber of secrets.

While the Harry Potter books are not exactly miracles of subtle character development, Rowling is a skilled craftsman and does give us intriguing glimpses of hidden depths to various characters. Rickman's Severus Snipe is a prime candidate for more detailed characterization, but Columbus reduces this character to no more Rickman's sneer. The strains of over-compression can be seen as the demands of plot, characterization and cinematic prestidigitation all clamor for space.

What will happen with the Goblet of Fire, a considerably more bulky tome that is supposed to hit the screen in 2005, one wonders?

One of the problems with the film as a medium for telling a story is the primacy that the special effects have over anything so mundane as narrative complexity. There is no denying that the effects are really superb -- watch out for the repotting of mandrakes, am ingeniously understated use of awesome computer graphics -- but they do have a tendency to get in the way. The quiddich match looks set to become a technical set piece, and its brilliance in Chamber of Secrets only emphasizes the enormous emphasis that the makers put on technology. It is as if they already had the computer game in mind before making the film, and with almost simulations release in Taiwan, it is hard to get away from the suspicion that the whole thing is just one giant merchandising conspiracy.

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