If 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' was the get-it-out-of-the-way first chapter in the series that had to set everything up, then 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' is the one where the filmmakers could finally let loose and just tell a great story. Superior in all respects to the first film (which was wasn't bad in and of itself), 'Chamber of Secrets' is more fun, more fanciful, and more engaging. Although I wouldn't call it the best Harry Potter movie, it certainly steered the series in the right direction.
Shot back-to-back with 'Sorcerer's Stone,' 'Chamber of Secrets' features most of the same creative personnel as its predecessor. Director Chris Columbus returns, as does screenwriter Steve Kloves and all of the cast. But if the huge weight of tackling the very first big-screen Potter left Columbus and Kloves a bit too focused on cramming in every last magical cranny of Rowling's text, with 'Chamber of Secrets' they are, if not completely liberated, than certainly far more confident to move beyond a simple carbon copy of the book in celluloid form.
The narrative twists and turns of 'Chamber of Secrets' don't get anywhere near as dark as Rowling's later installments, but the movie still tones down the family-friendly excesses of 'Sorcerer's Stone' to positive effect. As Rowling would continue to do with each of the installments in the series, 'Chamber of Secrets' repeats many of the same basic scenarios and thematic motifs from the first story, but adds new layers of depth by revealing new secrets. Harry (Daniel Radcliff) will learn a host of new powers, but he'll also get into more trouble -- Rowling is particularly adept at using magic as a counterpoint to adolescence. Likewise, Harry's relationships with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) will grow more intertwined and more rich with emotion, offering tantalizing hints at future complications to come. Rowling also fleshes out the roles of the adult characters, integrating them into the story to surprisingly resonant effect, particularly Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid and Richard Harris' Dumbledore, both of whom will eventually become mentors (of very different kinds) for Harry.
Even better, Columbus and his team of filmmaking wizards finally begin to let a bit of darkness creep into the visuals of 'Chamber of Secrets.' Though the sets are the same as the first time around (a nice benefit of the back-to-back shooting approach), there are more dark corners hiding at the edges of the frame, with new director of photography Roger Pratt painting his shots with a grimier palette. There is also a more palpable sense of danger to the action, with the surreal visions that haunt Harry being more visceral and frightening than anything seen in 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Even the recycling of the same action setpiece -- the famous Quidditch match -- is more suspenseful and far better executed in terms of special effects.
Having said all that, 'Chamber of Secrets' is not a perfect film. Its 166 minutes are packed with so many superfluous bits of Rowling's text that many of the book's most meaty dramatic scenes are left feeling rushed. Although I continue to find it admirable that Columbus and Kloves recognized that for diehard Potter cultists, even the smallest details matter, it would seem that with 'Chamber of Secrets' the filmmakers still hadn't quite learned that even in the world of Harry Potter, sometimes less is more.
Still, in beginning to introduce the richer, more complex themes that would dominate later installments in the series, 'Chamber of Secrets' is the first film in the franchise that genuinely got me hooked. 'Sorcerer's Stone' was a perfectly solid set-up film, but for me, 'Chamber of Secrets' is where the Harry Potter series truly takes sail.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
As was stated in the earlier Ultimate Edition review of the 'Sorcerer's Stone,' these sets are loaded with a bunch of stuff you may or may not want. The size of the sets was already mentioned (hint: massive). The outer, book-like covering is very well crafted and the book flap is held together by a hidden magnetic strip. Scenes from the film are included as artwork on the inside cover. I'm not a fan of the foldout disc holders. They just harken back to a day of clumsy DVD disc holders that were prevalent on releases of 'Lost' and '24.' Regular Blu-ray cases would've worked just fine. The two cards included in this set are Severus Snape and Rubeus Hagrid. The 48-page book included is as nicely crafted as the one from 'Sorcerer's Stone.' I really like these books, but I do wish they included more of a narrative instead of just a book with movie stills that occasionally have light description. The set is topped off with a nicely embossed slipcover that will please those interested in them.
As with 'Sorcerer's Stone: Ultimate Edition,' its 'Chamber of Secrets' counterpart seems to have been constructed with the same video presentation as the 2007 WB Blu-ray release of the film. The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer has its problems, but overall provides a very watchable and solid presentation for a 'Potter' film. 'Chamber of Secrets' sort of marks the descent into the darker aspects of Harry Potter's time at Hogwarts and the film reveals as much. The last part of the movie is quite dark with delineation working well, but not as revealing as it could be. Sometimes shadows blend together, creating a less detailed picture. Fine detail is the sticking point in this presentation. At times it comes across as clear as day, and other times faces are far too soft, revealing little to no detail at all. It just doesn't seem to have that pop, which later films in the franchise have. I also noticed some aliasing on animal cages during the animal transfiguration classroom scene, but these were only slight and for a split second. The green screen effects are better presented here. This probably has much to do with CGI graphics being perfected as years go by, but it's nice to see effects that don't look as fake as in the first film. While digital anomalies are kept pretty much out of sight, noticeable edge enhancement can be detected throughout the film on occasion. It isn't very distracting, and doesn't create any really clear halos, but videophiles will be able to catch it.
On the bright side, contrast is well done and colors are vibrant and fun. Skintones are natural. Greens and reds are nicely rendered, while whites aren't overblown. This isn't a perfect presentation, and a remastering of the film for this release could have given it a much better (maybe demo-type look), but this will do for now.
Like 'Sorcerer's Stone: Ultimate Edition,' 'Chamber of Secrets: Ultimate Edition' finds itself with newly mixed DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. The theatrical presentation is given a 6.1 mix, while the extended edition is given a 5.1. Really, I couldn't tell much of a difference. They both sound great as is. The mix really excels in prioritization and directionality. Panning effects are smooth and transitioned nicely from speaker to speaker. From the flying Weasley car to the action-packed Quidditch match, the effects are immersing. LFE is also well abundant and, at times downright powerful. The windows in my living room literally shook as the Whomping Willow pounded the car trying to kill Ron and Harry. This audio presentation has got everything you could want, and possibly a little more. It's an engulfing experience that will be enjoyed by Harry Potter fans old and young.
This edition also comes with two cuts of the film. The theatrical cut is 161 minutes while the extended cut 174 minutes.
"Borgin & Burkes"
"Crabbe & Goyle"
"Dark Arts Exam"
"Exiting to Knockturn Alley"
"Finding Flying Car in Forbidden Forest."
"Flying Car Over London"
"Harry and Ron Use Invisibility Cloak"
"Harry Finds Kwikspell Letter"
"Harry Meets Justin Finch-Fletchley"
"Harry Meets Colin Creevey"
"Harry Overhears Students"
"Harry Runs into Hagrid"
"Harry Sits with Hedwig"
"Harry Tells Ron About Hagrid"
"Ron and Hermione Question Harry"
"Ron Remembers Tom Riddle"
Behind Hogwarts (SD) - Behind Hogwarts is split into a few different special features.
"The Chamber Challenge"
"The Forbidden Forest Challenge"
"Tour Diagon Alley"
'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' is another solid addition to the 'Potter' series, and this Ultimate Edition sees fit to garnish it with a brand new 80-minute documentary, which should be the biggest reason for owning this set. These new documentaries, of which there will be eight in all when all is said and done, are the perfect way to shed light on one of the world's favorite stories. While the video presentation has stayed the same, Warner has given the film a Master Audio track, which rocks. This is a formidable piece of an epic collection. It's a must own for those who are collecting the 'Potter' films, but comes recommended to everyone else.