In my opinion Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is by far the better of the two Harry Potter films directed by Chris Columbus. Part of this is because the story is designed in such a say that Columbus cannot ignore the deeper and darker elements behind the story. In their second year at Hogwarts Harry and friends get begin to finally delve into the darkness that was only alluded to in The Sorcerer’s Stone. However, this is also the Harry Potter film in which Columbus wounded the rest of the franchise.
The new chapter in Harry’s adventures begins when he is home with the Dursley’s and a new character named Dobby appears bidding Harry to not go back to Hogwarts this year as someone will try to kill him. When Uncle Vernon blames some of Dobby’s mischief on Harry he locks Harry into his room and even bars the windows so that he cannot get out by any means. However, the Weasley boys come to Harry’s rescue and with the help of the rest of the Weasley’s he manages to get back to Hogwarts where as Dobby promises bad things start to happen. A rumor begins to spread about the hidden “chamber of secrets” somewhere within the castle that contains a monster that only the heir of Slytherin can control and when students begin to be mysteriously petrified and strange messages appear people begin to try to figure out who the heir of Slytherin really is and of course all fingers begin to point to Harry. We are introduced to Tom Riddle, Azkaban, the Minister of Magic, and the restrictions of Underage Wizardry. This is a very important year in Harry’s life.
There are two major elements in The Chamber of Secrets that Columbus couldn’t ignore and begin to bring out the darker side of Potter’s world – Dobby and the obvious child abuse.
To begin with the topic of child abuse we have Harry’s treatment at the hands of the Dursley’s. In The Sorcerer’s Stone Harry is locked into a cupboard under the Dursley’s staircase as his room, only given hand me downs and verbally disparaged constantly. By year two Harry’s circumstances have only improved superficially; instead of living under the stairs he has Dobby’s second bedroom, but is forced to stay in it without making noise or anything else that would give away his presence and when he angers Uncle Vernon he becomes a prisoner complete with bars on his windows. This is an epic form of child abuse that is allowed by Dumbledore and everyone that loves Harry because of something we find out in a later book, therefore Columbus could not ignore this darker element and instead had to acknowledge it.
One of my favorite characters to come out of Chamber of Secrets is the house elf Dobby. House elves are peculiar creatures and by many wizards they are abused and demeaned as they are a form of slave to many. In fact, the demented part about the house elves – that Columbus had to include – is that when they do something that wrongs their masters they must punish themselves. Dobby himself is an abused house elf and because he keeps defying his masters by warning Harry about emmenent danger he is constant being wounded, once he even mentions ironing his hands in punishment.
The really thing that begins to truly build in The Chamber of Secrets is the single most important element to the entire franchise, the reason behind Voldemort’s reign of terror – the race war within the wizarding world. In reality there is a long standing thought with a certain amount of wizards that you need to be of pure wizard blood to be a true wizard, no muggle lineage in you at all. Voldemort himself was half wizard, half muggle and he viewed the muggle part of himself as weak and so he sought out to destroy the muggles, muggle lovers, and anyone that stood in his way. This war of racial purity is set up in a huge way in the books and only mentioned by the end of the filmed version of Chamber of Secrets. If I have a list of grievances for what Chris Columbus did as a director to the first two Potter films this blasé treatment of the racial issue is number one on this list. As Columbus didn’t do his dillegence in setting up the racial discrimination as he should have the rest of the franchise has been scrambling to somehow explain this to the film viewers and put this racial war back into the film.
In the end both the film and book for Chamber of Secrets proves what I have always said about the Harry Potter series – they are not for children. After The Sorcerer’s Stone the series begins to take on much more adult themes and disturbing circumstances, and as such I do think the Harry Potter films should be viewed with caution for children and parents should not just assume they are suitable for children of any age. Chamber of Secrets is perhaps the last Harry Potter film I would let any child under at lease 11 see, at least if they were my child.
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Steve Kloves
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Professor Dumbledore: Richard Harris
Professor McGonagall: Maggie Smith
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Aunt Petunia: Fiona Shaw
Dudley: Harry Melling
Uncle Vernon: Richard Griffiths
Molly Weasley: Julie Walters
Percy Weasley: Chris Rankin
Fred Weasley: James Phelps
George Weasley: Oliver Phelps
Draco Malfoy: Tom Felton
Professor Snape: Alan Rickman
Dobby: Toby Jones
Gilderoy Lockhart: Kenneth Branagh
Moaning Myrtle: Shirley Henderson
Tom Riddle: Christian Coulson
Harry: What's a mudblood?
Hermione: It means dirty blood. Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who's muggle born. Someone with non-magic parents. Someone like me. It's not a term one usually hears in civilized conversation.
Hagrid: See the thing is, Harry, there are some wizards, like the Malfoy family, who think they're better than others because they're what people call "pure blood."
Harry: That's horrible!
Ron: It's disgusting.
Hagrid: And it's codswallop to boot. "Dirty blood." Why, there isn't a wizard alive today who's not half-blood or less. More to the point, they've yet to think of a spell that our Hermione can't do. Don't you think on it, Hermione. Don't you think on it for one minute.