A Moneymaking Film Formula Is No ‘Chamber of Secrets'

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Something that I've always thought the movie industry has sorely lacked has been sweeping, epic children's movies. Screw short attention spans-I distinctly remember feeling cheated and disillusioned when "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" lasted a measly 70 minutes. Had it been stretched out to three hours, I might've bothered to take their silly " ecology" message seriously.

Luckily, J.K. Rowling's " Harry Potter" series has recently popularized the art of the really long children's novel, which means that Hollywood is obligated to match them with a series of really long movies, each one nearly three hours. The length is unavoidable-Rowling has a story to tell and tells it well, crafting her novels with such ingenious tightness and clarity that it's difficult for a screenwriter to leave anything out without losing a crucial part of the story.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the big-screen adaptation of the second installment in the series and follow-up to last November's box-office smash, details the adventures of burgeoning wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) during their second year at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry.

The plot is deceptively simple enough. After being warned by a neurotic, masochistic elf named Dobby that great danger awaits him should he return to Hogwarts, Harry decides to go back anyway, difficult as the journey turns out to be.

Shortly thereafter, weirdness sets in-students slowly begin to be petrified one by one, Harry learns that he has the ability to talk to snakes, and a mysterious message in blood appears in the school's main hallway, reading "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened."

The movie basically adopts the same approach as the first one-as mechanically precise of a reconstruction of the novel as director Chris "Stepmom" Columbus could manage, with entire passages of dialogue seemingly lifted directly from the original text and inserted into the script.

In spite of this, it manages to be a better film than the mediocre "Sorcerer's Stone." For one, almost all of the actors seem more comfortable in their roles this time around. The best is newcomer Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of the narcissistic novelist Gilderoy Lockhart. Branagh's chief talent, when not resurrecting Shakespeare, seems to be playing finnicky, stuck-up social deviants. This didn't exactly serve him well in, say, "Wild Wild West," but he's fantastic here, stealing almost every scene he's in.

The movie's chief asset that ultimately catapults it ahead of "Sorcerer's Stone," however, is that it feels a lot more like a complete movie. It lacks the appeal of discovering a strange and fascinating new world that the original film had, but that's more than forgivable since it uses the extra time as a way of elaborating a considerably more fully-formed plot.

Whatever the case, there is absolutely no way that any child who is even marginally a fan of the "Harry Potter" novels could possibly find anything wrong with this movie. To be honest, that's all that should really matter, unless you're a parent being forced to sit through it for the sixth time.

Word has it that the third "Potter" movie is being directed by the guy who made "Y Tu Mama Tambien." What's next, Robin Williams playing a homicidal sociopath three times in one year?


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