Opens Fri Nov 15
In the second film based on the books by J.K. Rowling, young sorcerer Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) awakes on a dirty fishing trawler, suffering from amnesia and pinworms. Quarantined in the ship's hold, he is befriended by the ship's gardener, a former Thai prostitute with secrets of his own. From a tiny book implanted beneath his skin, Harry learns of his schooling at Hogwart's. Despite the book's dire warnings, Harry returns to find the academy empty, his classmates and teachers alive, but frozen inside the school's computer lab. After freeing his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasely (Rupert Grint), Harry digitizes himself and prepares to face the Master Computer Programme (played by Patrick MacGoohan), the electronic overlord that has enslaved the minds of Hogwart's faculty and students in order to magically crack military encryption codes and gain control of the world's nuclear arsenal.
Director Chris Columbus stays faithful to Rowling's wildly imaginative tale, bringing to life a horde of lascivious sea elves, a robotic blind man, an enchanted elevator that doesn't move at all (or does it?), a hatchback that drives on the wrong side of the road, and a shrieking diaper that may or may not hold the key to Harry's identity. The film is a wonderfully giddy rollercoaster ride from start to finish, climaxing in a breathtaking chase on digital broomsticks across a glowing grid.
Darker in tone than The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets (originally titled Welcome Back, Potter!) stumbles slightly in parts. A sequence in which a power-mad Harry pulverizes the skull of a talkative school chum, gouges out and eats the boy's eyes, and then laughingly urinates into the empty sockets, may disturb younger children. David Caruso's cameo as a nude unicorn jockey might also be problematic for those under six. Another misstep is the use of a two-foot-high, foam-rubber puppet to replace the late actor Richard Harris, who died of misadventure halfway through filming.
Still, these flaws are minor, and hardly detract from what amounts to a cinematic tour de force, a triumph of storytelling that will charm and excite the most jaded child. Welcome back, Potter, indeed!