Once more the Potter fantasies provide a multitude of enchantments....

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Warner Bros. continue to offer the "Potter" series in every format possible, this time in "Ultimate Editions" that include the theatrical and extended versions of each film, a ton of extras, many of them new, a digital copy of the film, and a number of other exclusive bonuses, all packaged up in fancy new trimmings. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is the second in the movie series and the second "Ultimate Edition" to hit the market.

If you liked the first Harry Potter adventure, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," you'll no doubt like 2002's "The Chamber of Secrets" equally well. What's more, if you like high-definition picture and sound, you might like this second installment on Blu-ray even better. The DTS-HD Master Audio in particular is about as good as it gets.

Preserving largely the same cast, with a few fresh faces thrown in for good measure, the movie continues the saga of the youthful wizard in his magical world of young and old fellow wizards, giant spiders, backstabbers, Basilisks, and miscellaneous evildoers. It's more of the same and great family fun.

Of course, this "more of the same" business can be a double-edged sword. While it's certainly good to have Harry and the gang back at Hogwarts, there is an inevitable sameness about the adventures, about the villains, about the settings, and about the climactic ending, all of which can become tiresome in so long a film. I remember giving up on the "Potter" books about a third of the way into the second volume for this very reason and not taking them up again until the fifth installment. The second novel seemed too much like the first one for me to be spending my time with it. Still, the movie version of "The Chamber of Secrets" offers up visual delights the book could never hope to deliver even for the most imaginative reader, and it provides wondrous surprises around every turn, making it a safe recommendation for anyone who enjoys fantasy.

Again directed by Chris Columbus, again written by Steve Kloves from a novel by R.K. Rowling, again with music by the prolific John Williams, and again starring Daniel Radcliffe as wizard-in-training Harry Potter, the movie is a compendium of everything we liked about the first film, with the addition of a few innovative touches. More important, Radcliffe made a huge leap in maturity and acting ability between movies one and two, and he is now more than capable of carrying the film.

It's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, but as in "The Sorcerer's Stone," the story begins with Harry once more locked up by his wicked Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw) and heckled by his disagreeable cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). And as in the first episode, his friends rescue him, and after a brief episode in Diagon Alley Harry returns to the magic school, there to face a new challenge and find out new secrets about (OK, under) the ancient castle he now calls home. As before, a decisive battle transpires in the depths of Hogwarts, followed by a surprisingly long epilogue to wrap things up.

This time out, we find people at Hogwarts petrified all over the place, and Harry and his friends find the words "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir...beware" written on a wall in blood. According to legend, one of the founding fathers of Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin, built a secret chamber somewhere in the labyrinthian building, a chamber no one could open except a proper heir to Slytherin, a chamber inhabited by a monster. Harry suddenly hears voices that no one else can hear, speaks in Parceltongue (snake language), and becomes the apparent center of the school's strange new goings on. Is he the true heir to Slytherin, and is he responsible for the petrifications and other bizarre activities of late?

More important than the plot, though, are the characters, most of them returning, some of them new. In addition to Harry and his Muggle relatives, Harry's friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) return to keep him company on his adventures. Hermione is sweeter and more charming than before, but Ron's whining begins to grate. Professor Albus Dumbledore returns, again played by Richard Harris (in one of his final screen appearances before his passing). Professor Minerva McGonagall also returns, again played by Dame Maggie Smith; plus the lovable giant, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane); the not-so-lovable Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton); everybody's favorite ghost, Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese); and the slimy Professor Snape (Alan Rickman).

New characters to the cast are the phony, egotistical, and ingratiating Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (flamboyantly played by Kenneth Branagh in a part the producers originally scheduled for Hugh Grant; I'm sure Grant would have been fine, too, but Branagh is a delight), who has filled a book "Magical Me" with personal exploits he didn't do; Draco's odious father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs); an often befuddled herbalist, Madam Sprout (Miriam Margolyes); a misunderstood spirit no one wants around, Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson); and a mysterious former Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson). But maybe the most memorable character of all is not a role played by a human at all; it's Dobby the House Elf, a computer-animated creation much like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings." He's a so-ugly-he's-cute kind of fellow voiced by Toby Jones, who warns Harry not to come back to Hogwarts and thereafter appears to be up to more mischief than good. But give him a chance.

Moreover, not only do the characters make the film a pleasure to watch, so do the visual treats. In an oversight of monumental proportions, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed even to nominate the film for its special effects, but audiences can relish them forever in high definition. Savor not only the film's incredible visions of Hogwarts, with its amazing staircases and moving portraits, but enjoy the sights of a flying Ford Anglia, an angry Womping Willow tree, some fractious mandrake plants, a rigged Quidditch match (very exciting but thrown in rather extraneously), a regenerating Phoenix, and a Dark Forest reminiscent of the one designed over sixty-five years earlier for "The Bride of Frankenstein," filled with really creepy spiders, among other things.

Once more the "Potter" fantasies provide a multitude of enchantments, although I still think the regular theatrical version "The Chamber of Secrets" was too long at 161 minutes, and the extended cut at 174 minutes doesn't really improve the situation. Fortunately, it doesn't hurt it much, either. Long is long, after all. Director Chris Columbus moves things along at a comfortable pace, and the plot and characters provide the cozy feeling of a favorite easy chair. It's hard not to like the film despite its minor shortcomings.

The Blu-ray high-definition video is quite remarkably good, the VC-1 encoded, 1080p resolution transfer doing quite a lot to provide a clear, clean focus while preserving the print's natural film grain. WB present the film in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and the image is excellent, beautifully detailed and delineated. Perhaps to underline Harry's youthful nature in these first installments, the director chose to use quite a lot of bright, flashy colors, some of them perhaps too radiant for ultimate realism, and on occasion facial tones can seem a trifle flush, as well as too strongly lit. Nevertheless, everything looks impressive, and one cannot help but admire the image throughout.

One could hardly ask for better audio. This time the studio uses lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 to reproduce the sound, which exhibits a tremendously wide dynamic range, a deep bass, a strong transient response, and some of the most-stunning surround sound in any of the "Potter" films. You'll hear a more robust response than in the first movie, especially, with a stronger, tauter low end. The bass here literally rumbles the tummy. Then, too, the screams, whistles, flyovers and flybys, even the cries of gremlin-like pixies come from all the speakers and all points in-between; very impressive. Yet it isn't just the more-obvious sounds that impress but the little, subtle sounds, too, like the plants murmuring to one another in the mandrake scene. The Quidditch match and the chase for the snitch are pretty harrowing in DTS-HD MA, and the climactic scene in the Chamber of Secrets is one of the most sonically awesome moments in the whole series. Did I find any minor shortcoming? Yes, I thought the overall sonic response was a bit too bright and forward for ultimate realism, but it's so small a shortcoming it's hardly worth fretting over.

Disc one contains the theatrical and extended versions of the movie; an "In-Movie Experience" (theatrical version only), with picture-in-picture commentary with the director and others on all aspects of the filmmaking process; BD-Live access; thirty-seven scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Disc two, also a Blu-ray and mostly in high def, contains the second segment of the massive new documentary "Creating the World of Harry Potter, Part 2: Characters," this one about eighty minutes long, wherein the directors and designers of the series explain how they devised the characters for the screen from the pages of the books. Then, there are screen tests of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson; a thirteen-minute featurette, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Revealed"; nineteen deleted scenes, totaling about seventeen minutes; and a gallery containing one theatrical trailer, one teaser trailer, and seventeen TV spots.

Disc three is a standard disc that carries over the extras from the previous DVD edition of the movie. First up are the additional scenes we saw earlier, this time in standard definition. Next is a game preview, followed by a visit to Professor Lockhart's classroom, where you're able to view his honors certificates and his required reading for the term. Then, there's a series of DVD-ROM features; a sixteen-minute conversation with author J.K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves; a series of interviews with the young actors playing the students and the adults playing the professors; a look through Professor Dumbledore's office; a gallery of production sketches; and a series of games and tours. And, finally, we get a test of our "Spellcaster Knowledge."

Disc four contains a digital copy of the theatrical version of the film in standard def. The digital copy is compatible with iTunes and Windows Media, the offer expiring December 8, 2010.

But that's not all. Besides the four discs, the package includes a forty-eight page, hardbound photo book; the next two cards--Rubeus Hagrid and Severus Snape--in a series of character cards; a foldout Digipak case for the three main discs (a case also suitable for placing on the shelf if you don't want to display the entire box); an elaborately ornate hard-cardboard box for all the materials; and a fancy, embossed slipcase for the whole package.

Parting Thoughts:
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is mostly a joy to watch, but its length may prove a small chore for younger children and the occasional adult. It's not that the film is at all boring, and it's certainly imaginative, but there is that "inevitable sameness" about it I mentioned earlier. And it's long. Now longer than ever if you choose the extended version. Fortunately, the high-def picture and sound enhance the experience considerably.


Film Value