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Arts & Culture

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

If the character of Harry Potter existed only on film, theres no way hed ever achieve the popularity he currently enjoys today.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (opening November 15 throughout San Diego), the second film directed by Chris Columbus and based on the books by J. K. Rowling, once again falls short of capturing the magic and delight of its source material.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Harry Potter phenomena, heres the basic story. An orphaned Harry Potter is left on the doorstep of an aunt and uncle who force the boy to live in the cupboard under their stairs. On his 11th birthday, Harrys fairy godmother arrives in the form of a hulking giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who makes the announcement that Harry (now played by the adolescent Daniel Radcliffe) is a wizard and must now come to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for proper training. At school he befriends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone , followed them through their first year at Hogwarts.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the trio of neophyte wizards is entering their second year at Hogwarts and they face even greater challenges than in their first. Harrys been warned by a mysterious little house-elf named Dobby that theres great danger awaiting him at Hogwarts and that he should not return to the school. Harry, who considers these unknown perils to be more agreeable than his horrible life with his aunt and uncle, eagerly heads off to Hogwarts. Once there he discovers that a dark force is terrorizing the school and that Harry is destined to confront it.

Once again, the most appealing thing about the film is the cast. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are smart, charming performers who prove likable despite the films shortcomings. Theyre free of the glibness that mars a lot of young American child stars. They deliver fresh, genuine performances in a film that feels rather stale and artificial. The wickedly funny Alan Rickman is underused as Professor Snape and Kenneth Branagh could have been even more over the top as the self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart. British acting veterans Maggie Smith, Richard Harris and Robbie Coltrane are all great as part of the Hogwarts establishment.

The first Harry Potter film was pleasing enough entertainment and chock-full of eye candy. But it lacked inspiration and cleverness, something the book did have. This second film comes across as even more of an assembly line product and is completely devoid of life. Even the special effects lack spark. Since the first film established certain thingslike the magical ceiling which changed with the seasons and the constantly moving staircasesthe second film doesnt even bother to maintain these visual treats. As for the new effects--like the giant spiders and a monster--they lack personality and dont even appear to be the best that current technology can offer.

Director Chris Columbus simply doesnt know how to invest his material with a true sense of fun. Instead its calculated, pre-packaged fun. Since Columbus has no vision nor any discernable cinematic style, the film simply falls flat with a loud and resounding thud. But audiences, caught up in all the hype, are unlikely to be swayed by what critics may have to say. This is, as they say, a critic-proof film and Potter fans will no doubt make it a resounding hit at the box office.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (rated PG for mild language and some scary moments) is a lifeless, calculated film and whatever good will it elicits from audiences must be a carry over of their affection for the source material and or be won based on the charms of a talented cast.