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Review: 'Chamber' a rousing, top-rank sequel

Harry and his crew return, and how

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Harry Potter
With seven "Harry Potter" books expected, "Potter" is more than a sequel -- it's a franchise.

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(CNN) -- Snakes? Check. Spiders? Check. A breathtaking game of Quidditch? Check.

And it's even better this time around.

The film adaptation of "Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets" once again sticks fairly closely to the source material -- the second book in the phenomenally successful series by J.K. Rowling. This time the story is darker, funnier and contains much more action and adventure.

In the first movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Harry was much more passive, and a lot of basic information had to be conveyed to the audience about witchcraft and Harry's background. "Chamber," however, hits the ground running.

We find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) at home for summer vacation after his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His muggle (non-magical) relatives, Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths), have Harry locked away in his room where he is forbidden from performing any magic. Not only is he locked away, he's despondent over not hearing from his closest friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Herminone Granger (Emma Watson).

Then suddenly, at one of his darkest moments, a strange house-elf named Dobby appears in Harry's bedroom, warning him that his life is in danger and he must not to return to Hogwarts for his second year. Dobby has even gone as far as blocking all correspondence from Harry's friends in his desperate efforts to prevent Harry from going back to school.

Of course, Dobby's actions make Harry even more determined to return. At this point, Ron and two of his older brothers -- troublemaking twins George and Fred -- show up in a magical flying car and rescue the young wizard. Once he's back in the warmth of the Weasley household, he begins plans to enter his second year at Hogwarts.

The usual suspects

After a few mishaps, Harry and his friends arrive back in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, but things are not well. A mysterious chamber has been opened, someone is paralyzing students, and the future of the school is in jeopardy. Harry and company must find the culprit or face a life without magic.

All the usual suspects have returned. Robbie Coltrane is once again Rubeus Hagrid, the faithful groundskeeper at Hogwarts and Harry's loyal friend. The late Richard Harris, who died after filming was completed, is the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, and Alan Rickman is the enigmatic potions professor and the head of Slytherin House, Professor Severus Snape.

The incomparable Maggie Smith is once again Professor Minerva McGonagall, the deputy headmistress of Hogwarts. In addition, Tom Felton is back as Harry's archenemy, Slytherin leader Draco Malfoy. A few new characters are also introduced, including Jason Isaacs (2000's "The Patriot") as Lucius Malfoy, Draco's Machiavellian father, and Kenneth Branagh as the self-centered professor of the Dark Arts, Gilderoy Lockhart.

People who criticized director Chris Columbus for being too faithful to the book in the first "Harry Potter" movie will probably have the same complaint here. I, on the other hand, liked the fact that Columbus has such a loyalty to Rowling's written word. With a fan base like Harry's, I believe it's wise to stick with what has already worked so well.

New developments

Kenneth Branagh's character, the egotistical Lockhart, is the best developed in "Chamber."

Branagh's character is the best developed of all the new players. He looks like he's having a delightful time playing the egotistical Lockhart. Rickman, on the other hand, is under-utilized in his role of Snape. And it's rather sad to see Harris' last performance be such a journeyman's role -- third banana in a kids' flick -- but at least it's a GREAT BIG kids' flick.

Radcliffe and Grint have both grown a bit, and their voices are beginning to deepen, but none of the kids (including Watson) have changed too drastically over the last year. It has just been one year, however; the next film is not due out until 2004 and there will be two years of growth involved. That may be more problematic.

The best new character, hands down, is Dobby the house-elf, voiced by Toby Jones and created from scratch by Industrial Light and Magic. He interacts wonderfully with Harry and rivals the cinematic perfection of the sword-wielding Yoda in the last "Star Wars" installment.

Once again the production values -- the sets, costumes and props -- are pure perfection. Stuart Craig, who was nominated for an Oscar for "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone," returns as production designer; Lindy Hemming (who won an Academy Award for "Topsy-Turvy") created the costumes; and the special effects were stunningly designed by Jim Mitchell, Nick Davis and John Richardson.

Hollywood sequels rarely match the originals, with "The Godfather II" and the second "Star Trek" notable exceptions. Now joining those ranks is "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." The people at Warner Bros. (like CNN, a division of AOL Time Warner) can relax: they have another hit on their hands. A good thing, too, as with seven "Harry Potter" books expected, "Potter" is more than a sequel -- it's a franchise.

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" opens nationwide on Friday. It's rated PG.

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