Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Chris Columbus
viewed: 11/27/02 at Park Cinemas, Paso Robles, CA

The Harry Potter phenomenon. Like many such phenomena, 99% of it is media-made hype. That is hardly breaking news, but it’s still worth pointing out when approaching a film like this.

In a slightly less cynical time, not all that long ago, I still enjoyed these big Hollywood productions for what they were and came to think that the hype and commercialism could easily be viewed as all part of the film. The media frenzy is a wholly intentional and heavily “worked at” goal of the studios and the monies behind these products. With tie-in’s at fast food chains, toys in every format that one could imagine, and video games to boot, the film experience of a big Hollywood prefab “blockbuster” is inclusive of the barrage and inescapability of the film all around us,…whether we see it or not.

When I say it was a less cynical attitude, I mean that I kind of enjoyed the onslaught, the gluttony, the gimmicks and toys. I found it fascinating and amusing. Now, I just see lots of landfill.

This extraneous noise of the hype of a film, its ubiquitous advertising and its shared cultural excitement (which most of the children — and some adults I know — share in), is absolutely a significant part of the viewing of a movie like this. I think it often plays heavily into the frequent disappointment that films such as this evoke. I mean, how could they in fact live up to so much hype?

I also often wonder about the way that these films will play in years to come. They are such products of their time, often rooted heavily in the special effects of their time, and they tend to reflect the most polished and “cutting edge” technologies and ideas of a period. They become dated and passe very quickly. And years later, when the hype has petered out, they will be seen with totally different eyes and in utterly different contexts.

Again, this is always true of pretty much any film or cultural product. And I am sure, I am not saying anything new here. But this is all part of the “baggage” with which I approached this film.

I have read the first two Harry Potter books (keeping up with the kids on the street and all) and while I don’t think that they are ground-breaking classics of children’s literature, I did enjoy them and I do think that they mostly represent a better cultural phenomenon than, say…Pokemon.

So, anyway, about this film. I thought it was better than the first film, which did an amazing job at rendering the world of the books visually and a reasonable job at casting. I thought the first film’s visual design was excellent, but its rushed narrative tried to pack in the entirety of the story. It ended up being less engaging than I would have liked. This film had the same visual design (less significant in its familiarity, but still very nice) and seemed to be better overall. Of course, I found the second book to have a better sense of narrative development, too, so maybe that had something to do with it, too.

There are a lot worse cultural products and a lot worse films than this one. The film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is not bad, but one ought to be suspicious of all things that come with too much excess effluvia and hype. I am.

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