Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 14, 2002
Goodbye, Columbus

Harry Potter gets bitten by the sophomore jinx in his latest film.


A few months after last yearís release of Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone came the news that Chris Columbus, having directed the first two Harry Potter films, would elect not to direct a third film based on J.K. Rowlingís novels. Some Hollywood insiders (and we all know what a fount of wisdom they are) questioned Columbusí sanity, but from a career standpoint, it makes sense. No matter how good the movies were, people were going to tire of his vision by the time the third one came around. From an artistic standpoint, he canít leave soon enough.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is even longer than the first movie at 161 minutes, with fewer good jokes from Steve Klovesí script and even less dramatic flow. It follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they begin their second year at Hogwarts. The sequel has the advantage of not having to re-introduce us to the world of Hogwarts and its main personages. Or at least it should be an advantage. Thatís not how it works out, though. Columbus gets tripped up by loads of expositional dialogue, partly because heís not imaginative enough to think of cinematic ways around it. He canít get to the point of individual scenes. Even simple conversations between two characters take forever. The climactic scene looks too much like the one from the first movie.

Columbus does hit on one inspiration in a sequence where Harry gets transported 50 years back in time and watches past events unfold in a black-and-white sequence meant to evoke David Leanís early films, while Harry himself remains in color. Nevertheless, this lumbering film is the starkest evidence yet that Columbus has regressed as a filmmaker since he did Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Thereís another drawback to the movieís attempts to focus on its story, in which Harry and his friends try to solve the mystery of whatís stalking the schoolís hallways and turning students into stone. One of the authentic pleasures of the first Harry Potter film was watching Britainís finest actors loosen up and strut their stuff, but the second film finds less screen time for the adult characters. The movie could use more of Jason Isaacs as the urbanely villainous Lucius Malfoy, Miriam Margolyes as an appropriately crunchy Professor Sprout, and especially Kenneth Branagh as Hogwartsí clownish, self-promoting new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart. The late Richard Harris turns up as Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and even though he doesnít do anything here that he didnít do in the first movie, his performance is infused with a certain weight that comes from our knowledge that this is his final appearance onscreen.

The third Harry Potter film, originally offered to M. Night Shyamalan, will be directed by Alfonso Cuarůn, who made a gently whimsical kidsí film in A Little Princess before breaking through with the decidedly not-for-kids Y Tu MamŠ Tambiťn. His filmmaking talent creates hope for the franchiseís future. Itís too late, though, to do anything about the present.

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