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|Kevin Krock, editor|
As most of you are probably aware, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second installment of J. K. Rowling's tremendously popular Harry Potter book series. Faithfully transferred from book to film under the watchful eye of Rowling, this movie picks up during the summer after Harry, Ron Weasly, and Hermione Granger's first year of adventures at Hogwarts.
This time around, the gang encounters a variety of amazing and magical surprises, including a mysterious house elf, a giant talking spider, a flying car, a rash of student petrifications, a very spooky basilisk, and a host of others. The movie is spread over about two and a half hours, and it makes for quite an adventure for the family. However, heed the PG rating, as it is definitely not one for the toddlers or the easily frightened.
Although this story is darker and scarier than the first book and movie, it still retains much of the feel of the first movie. It has the same look and settings, thanks to Director Chris Columbus, who provides another visually stunning and magical world for the story to take place. The original cast returns, with the young stars providing stronger, more confident acting.
The main characters develop nicely, as expected, and the story provides a nice platform to get a better feeling for how Harry, Ron, and Hermione are maturing as individuals and as a group of friends working together. The story, acting, and setting all combine to make for a more compelling movie than the first, and it bodes well for the next movie in the series. To top it all off, one of my favorite contemporary composers, John Williams, provides another memorable yet mostly reminiscent score to this magical escapade.
I must admit, I was not much of a Harry Potter fan before the first movie was released. But after some gentle prodding (thank you Adrienne and Tony), I read the first book, saw the movie, and was hooked. After reading the second book, I was as concerned as many other fans that the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie adaptation was going to be a let down. But, like the first, the essence of the story is there. While some of the relatively minor details present in the book get left out, the careful crafting of the movie keeps the pacing, twists, turns, and surprises right in line with expectations. I only hope the production team and cast can meet the level of expectation they have set for themselves with the last two movies.
While I would not say that this two-disc set was chock full of fascinating background or behind-the-scenes production material, there is definitely enough stuff to keep you interested and immersed for a while. Disc 1 primarily contains the movie, but it does contain a cast and crew listing, a video trailer for Sorcerer's Stone, and the Chamber of Secrets theatrical trailer.
You will find the rest of the goodies on the second disc. The biggest advantage this set has over Sorcerer's Stone is that you do not need to solve a convoluted puzzle to get to some of the bonus material. Thankfully, everything on Disc 2 is readily available to peruse.
The part everybody seems to be interested in are the 19 deleted or extended scenes totaling about 17 minutes. Many of them are not critical to the plot, and for the most part, it is clear why they were cut. This disc also features self-guided tours of Diagon Alley and Dumbledore's office, and while somewhat interesting, the tedium of punching arrows to move around and simply looking at everything grew old quickly. The lack of additional information during the tour also made the tour a bit boring.
There are a few other minor goodies on disc 2, like a visit to Lockhart's class to look at his memorabilia and books (worth about five minutes), The Chamber Challenge, The Forbidden Forest Challenge, the Colin's Darkroom activity, and the Spellcaster Knowledge game. All are worth a quick look, but the pay-offs after completing the games and challenges are weak.
There is also a nice image gallery with what seems to be at least 100 or more still images ranging from character sketches to setting drawings. The gallery interface is also nicely done like the hallways in Hogwarts, with moving staircases and paintings on the walls. Rounding out the minor stuff is a video game preview and the DVD-ROM section.
For the folks interested in the behind-the-scenes information, the Behind Hogwarts section is where you want to start. It falls a bit short on covering the entire production in the depth that I was hoping, but there is enough material to give you a flavor for how the film was put together.
The short interviews with the cast were entertaining and interesting, moreso than I had expected, and they total about 10 minutes. Those tie in well with the 16-minute interview with author J.K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves. This will be particularly interesting to fans, as you have an opportunity to hear Rowling discuss the process of rendering her books onto the big screen and all the effort that goes into making the movie stay true to her vision.
Finally, there is a Build a Scene in the Dumbledore's Office section, which is a concise 17-minute featurette that focuses on everything from the set design and construction of Dumbledore's office, to the editing and scoring of a final scene in the office. Even though it is a short featurette, there are plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes video clips. It is a nice snapshot of a small part of the film, but I would have traded some of the other goodies for a more in-depth version of this mini-documentary. Given the grand scope and budget of this production, they could have easily put together a rock solid documentary.
Overall, the depth of the bonus material is not quite up to my expectations for a full-blown collector's edition, but what you get is still pretty good. There is definitely enough to keep a Potter fan happy, but if you are looking for a commentary, multiple production featurettes, computer models, and so on, you are simply out of luck.
The Video, Audio and Interface
I reviewed the widescreen edition, and I assume the quality of the full-screen edition is similar, just minus a serious chunk of the picture. This movie was shot with a very widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, so the full screen edition crops a lot of theatrical screen area off. As for the anamorphic widescreen transfer, it looks a bit better than the first DVD transfer, but I think for most people you would have to play them back to back to notice any difference. The cinematography in Chamber is equally, if not more, dark than the first, but this transfer is less grainy and more detailed. The colors, when present, are vibrant, and the subtle shadows are solid. I did not notice any major visual distractions, like source deterioration (scratches, dust, and so on.) or digital artifacts, and it was just a pleasure to watch.
Equally pleasing was the audio transfer. Quite simply, the dialog is clear and nicely staged, and the soundtrack features plenty of surround effects and an enveloping musical score. There is just not much more to ask for.
The menus are wonderfully designed, with plenty of on-screen animation, music, sound effects, and transition effects. From the start, you definitely get dropped right into the world of Harry Potter, and the menus feel like an extension of the movie, which is how it should be.
The Final Evaluation
If you are a fan of the movie or the book series, this set is well worth picking up and adding to your collection. This movie is darker and scarier than the first, but it is far more developed and interesting to watch. The DVD simply looks and sounds great, and the goodies are enough to keep you interested for a little while. The only down side is that it is probably too scary for preschoolers and the elementary school crowd, but for older children this set makes a good companion for the books. Even though they are children's literature, they are a fun and light read for parents, who should take the time to read them, and then settle in with the rest of the family for this fun adventure movie and see how close the production crew came to your imagination.
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