Hey folks, Harry here... In about 40 minutes I head to the airport on my greatest adventure yet... And as I'm pondering Chinese mountains, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba and David Carradine... I come across this being sent in from Walkabouter... Now Walkabouter has been with me for years... is as solid a spy as we get... He's so inside he scares everyone at Warner Brothers... He was dead right about the first HARRY POTTER and dead on about SCOOBY DOO... He is the man! And what he describes below... well it sounds like a film that is still being worked on, still in the early stages, not yet with score, not yet finished... But he's the only person out there that has seen it.... that will talk on the record and to the point. BEWARE OF SPOILERS.... See you from China hopefully!
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Walkabouter has returned.
Last time I dropped you a note, it was with my "Scooby-Doo" pan...which obviously didn't effect its box-office grosses. It's commercial success hasn't surprized me (I predicted it would make about $150 million, and it looks like it's gonna exceed that figure a bit). As I said, I liked Matt Lilliard a lot as Shaggy, and while the tone of my review, in retrospect, was more bland indifference than crucification, it was still a pan.
Makes you wonder just what purpose I have in writing these damn little notes for you and the world to read. I can scream "This movie's GREAT!" or "This movie's TERRIBLE!" 'till I'm blue in the face. Sure, people may read it, post feedback, give the film a positive or negative "buzz", but when a movie's released, it's fair game. What's past is past.
But the real measure of a movie is something even the box office receipts can't tally: time. Take BLADE RUNNER. THE RIGHT STUFF. Carpenter's THE THING. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. FIGHT CLUB. All tanked commercially upon their initial release, yet all are powerful films just the same. Geat even. (Funny how in the case of SHAWSHANK, the prison movie nobody went to see, became, after video rentals and TV screenings, one of the highest-ranking films on IMDB.com., higher than the likes of FORREST GUMP and PULP FICTION, the two initial favorites of that same year. And BLADE RUNNER? The sci-fi "flop" is now one of the most influential films of all time, even far beyond the sci-fi genre.)
How many films nowadays can we honestly see ourselves watching, over and over, in 10, 20, 30 years' time? (LORD OF THE RINGS is the only major "studio" motion picture of the last 2 years that comes to my mind....though certainly the likes of Peter Jackson, an independent, eccentric spirit, had EVERYTHING to do with its deserved success.) I'm not saying everything has to aspire to be a masterpiece, I'm simply stating that, as much as I might enjoy a movie like RUSH HOUR, once I've seen it, I have no need to see it again.
"Time will tell." How simple, how eloquent that phrase is.
It applies to movies, too. Time can render the biggest blockbuster hit into a fleeting, silly memory of 2 hours we once enjoyed. Sure, I liked INDEPENDENCE DAY. I liked HOME ALONE. I liked JURASSIC PARK, MEN IN BLACK, TWISTER. I liked them all. But I do not need to see them again.
For a great film, however underappreciated or overlooked, time can be a true friend. Warner Bros. might have screwed up the release of THE IRON GIANT...but, thank God, time came to its rescue. People who've seen it have loved it. It will endure.
I doubt the same could be said for SCOOBY DOO.
Time for me to move on to another subject...and to the real reason why I've written to you now. After an extended stay abroad, I've finally returned home. And it feels great. I can relax, I can hear the pounding of the tides less than two blocks away, and I can finally write at my computer. (God bless my Macintosh, but I hate my labtop. The keys are too small for my fingers.)
I'm now going to review HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS.
Sorry, Mr. Columbus. Sorry, Warner Bros. I've tried to keep my mouth shut the last two weeks. I tried REALLY hard but I can't help myself. I know I promised. Sorry, I'm an addict. I like teasing people. I'm the "Deep Throat" of your wizarding movies; I lead people on and hint at things, but for my own safety (and conscience) I can't fully divulge. Spilling it all this early just wouldn't seem right. So I'll spill only a little bit. It's no secret that I liked the first film, PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, a lot. None of us really had any idea what exactly was going to be done to the book in its translation to the screen, as the potential for disastrous "creative liberties" was great. Rumours of a CGI feature. Haley Joel Osment as Harry.
That the final film stayed true to the book was largely why it was so successful. Cinematic landmark? Masterpiece? Flawless? No, no, and no...but it WAS a wonderful movie, and one obviously made by people who gave a damn.
(Thanks Mr. Heyman, Mr. Kloves, and Mr. Columbus for giving a damn. And, just in case they think I've been picking on them, thanks to Warner Bros, too -- believe it or not, I'm sorry for any headaches I may have caused you guys.)
So what of Harry's second adventure? Is it bigger and better? Scarier? More mature? Will audiences flock to the theatres a second time 'round?
Before I answer those questions, let me say here and now that I will not be giving away any major plot points or spoilers. The book is out there, on every continent on the planet, and most of you who are going to see the movie probably already know what it's about. For the rest of you, I presume this will make you all the more skeptical about my review, and, well...what can I say? Blast me with your conspiracy theories and criticisms....That's what the bloody message boards are for. Bring it on.
The film is still coming together, though from what I've seen, the cut looks pretty refined in terms of editing. Some VFX completion work is in order, and will likely be in progress all the way through October. I think the predub has come along well, though sadly I was not able to hear the film with John Williams' new score. Damn. But as it is all still a work in progress, I'll keep my comments to a broad overview, and not ruin it for either the filmmakers (who deserve to keep their secrets until they're completely ready) or for audiences (who don't like spoilers but are inclined to read them, regardless).
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS has some things REALLY going for it. There are improvements, there are smiles, and there are scenes of fancy. But there are drawbacks, too, though few and far between. SECRETS seems to have taken three steps forward but one step back.
Okay, so that doesn't make any fucking sense. Time for another analogy.
SUPERMAN. A film made with love and care. A respect to the character. Wit, humor, charm, and innocence. SUPERMAN 2: faster, more energetic and exciting. Funnier, wittier. Great performances. Better defined. But at the same time, it's a little sloppier around the edges, and lacking the sincerity of the first.
SECRETS is rough around the edges, especially in the final act. I think they've also tried to condense everything, making it move faster and faster, while skipping over some nice details. In the movie's defense, purists might say the very same thing about the books. SECRETS shoehorns much more into the story -- new characters, funny scenarios -- than PHILOSOPHER'S STONE had, but for a newcomer, it is surely to be a little overwhelming. I thought the ending was a BIT much, but as I also felt that way about the book, I could hardly chastize the filmmakers.
If there's one significant difference between the films, however, it concerns the actors. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all back...a little older, probably not much wiser...but very different from before. (And no, I'm not trying to dwell on the issue of puberty, here. These young actors have enough to deal with...especially since the breaking of their voices has already made front page news.)
In the first film, Harry was an outsider, a symbol of wide-eyed innocence coupled with soulful restraint. Here, Daniel Radcliffe is MUCH more...shall we say...playful. There's a devlish twinkle in his eyes that wasn't there before...he's a little on edge and a LOT more mischievious. Mind you, he's still good old Harry...a nice kid, but now he's not always quite so nice.
The film's mid-section really plays off this fact, especially when all the other students grow suspicious of Harry in something pretty spooky going on at Hogwart's. It seems as though a mysterious, evil force is dwelling within the school, and petrifying things in its path. (When one of the leading characters succombs to the unknown entity in the third act, you know that the books are beginning to take on a more sinister tone....But that's something that PRISONER OF AZKABAN should REALLY deliver for us...In time, guys...in time...) Having become a hero in the first movie, and admired by other students at the beginning of SECRETS (there's a cute subplot of Harry grumpily shrugging off the affections of Ron's little sister, a new student at Hogwart's), Harry suddenly finds himself abandoned all over again. He even begins to doubt his own feelings -- he's paranoid that he ALMOST got into Slytherin (that's the EVIL STUDENTS' house of Hogwart's, for the uninitiated), and is afraid that maybe, just maybe, there's an evil dark wizard lurking inside him. (One can recall young Jonathan Scott-Taylor of OMEN II here...a young, angelic face with a possibly satanic personailty. Of course, the big secret Rowling has in book five is that Harry was actually born of a jackal without his adopted parents' knowledge.)
Rupert Grint's performance delivers more comic relief than before. Though it's not RON WEASLY AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, Grint seems to like putting on a show by trying to steal every scene he's in. And for the most part, he does. It's easy for us to like Ron, and it's easy for me to like Grint in the part.
Alan Rickman, sadly underused in the first movie, isn't really given much more here, but he has seething sinister snares down to an artform, and for that we should be grateful. Rickman seems to enjoy being bad, but with a campiness that makes him rather charming.
Hermione is as prissy as ever, but I found Emma Watson quite sincere and adorable this time 'round, especially in her swooning reactions to the new dark arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart.
Oh yeah...Lockhart. He's played by some guy named Kenneth Branagh -- you know, the bloke once married to Emma Thompson?
Seriously, now, for those of us old enough to recall a time called 1989, remember the young, fair-haired prince who burst onto the screen at a ripe old age of 27? The one who redefined a Shakespearean role, out Olivier-ing even Olivier? Branagh's triumphant HENRY V was not just a smashing performance, but a work of a master director full of energy, of vigor. Then his comic turn in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING made him seem unstoppable. Everyone seems to have forgotten those days once FRANKENSTEIN hit theaters. It was so eagerly anticipated (featuring one hell of a movie trailer) that when the handsome, ambitious project failed, Ken seemed to fail with it...at least in the eyes of the public.
Well, dammit, I for one still think Ken Branagh rocks. I can forgive him for FRANKENSTEIN...I can admire his 4 hour HAMLET (even if I didn't always connect with it)...
I still think he has genius within him.
I still want him to go back into directing a major, epic studio film someday.
And if he had more screen time in CHAMBER OF SECRETS, I think Ken Branagh could get another Oscar nomination.
He's smug, vain, pompous and charming. He's foolish and clever, witty and bumbling. This is not just Branagh doing Lockhart...It's Branagh spoofing Branagh.
CHAMBER OF SECRETS is at its best during these lighter moments. The silliness Branagh shows seems contagious with his actors. (There is a CLASSIC scene at the end with Harry and company challenging Lockhart -- the terrified look on Branagh's face, and the playfully sinister look on Radcliffe's are priceless.) It also works as it gets a little darker. There are some chilling moments throughout the film, and there's more mystery and tension.
The film starts off great, with a hilarious opening with Harry vs. the Dursleys. But then Harry encounters a house-elf named Dobby...
OK, I'm on another track all over again. Dobby Dobby Dobby Dobby Dobby...
Dare I say the words to compare?
Jar Jar Jar Jar Jar Jar...
Well, no, Dobby's not THAT bad. He's quite charming, actually, in a deflated-whoopie-cushioned-voice sorta way.
Dobby is more like a cartoon: a caricature, a creature of artificiality, somehow both annoying and endearing at the same time. He's an important character to the story, though, and by the end, I was rather endeared to him.
(Others might not be, but I doubt to the extreme of another CGI creation... It's safe to say we won't see www.death-to-dobby.com out there.)
There's so much more I can write about...A faster, more thrilling Quidditch match...Robbie Coltraine's lovable Hagrid under some dubious suspicion himself...freaky spiders, snakes, and whomping trees (oh my!)...
But I'm tired. I need sleep. My trusty dog has his head perched on my left foot, and it's time I end my day.
CHAMBER OF SECRETS is turning out to be a really good flick. In some ways it is superior to its predessessor, with its young cast coming into their own. (It's impossible for me to imagine anyone else as Harry, Ron, and Hermione now.) It's funnier, spookier, and a little more complicated...but as there's so much crammed into the film, one can't help but think that it's both too much and not enough. It's not that there's anything missing -- all the ingredients are there. But perhaps there's some flavor lost when you don't let the food simmer long enough.
As I said...time will tell.
Until November 16th,
Long live HENRY V.