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Kino Korner December 25, 2002
Harry Potter vs. Tom Exposition
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 2
This patronizing extends to ethnic tokenism in the matter of pixies. Rowlings' first book may have been careful to include Scottish and even, God forbid, Irish characters, but one oppressed Celtic remnant was cruelly left out: the Cornish! Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets does its best to overcome this terrible ethnic exclusion by introducing "Cornish Pixies," a very forgettable form of flying gremlin presumably derived from "Cornish Pasties."

But or about 120 of its 160 minutes, this film manages to throw all this drivel at you without distracting you from the very beautiful images it offers. There's more beauty by far in this film than in the two Peter Jackson's made out of Tolkien's huge store of wonders. And many of the beauties in Chamber of Secrets are genuinely scary. The janitor's cat, hanging from a hook with a message in blood behind it-that's way out of nice, safe Spielberg territory, and should have your offspring waking in terror many a month after they've seen the film; the Mandrake roots, screaming like zombie dried apples as they're pulled from their pots, are a memorable, funny and yet scary image you won't forget in a hurry.

But all these are nothing compared to the spiders. "I don't like spiders," says Harry's comic-relief pal as they step into the Great Spider's cave. By the time their magic car-is it a Hillman? -- saves them from arachnid attack, you will share this aversion. It's a great scene, not least for the fact that Harry's courage and trust in his friend Hagrid are proved to be absolutely wrong and nearly lethal. I can't recall another book or film for kids that dares to tell the kiddies that bravery, loyalty and persistence may damn well get you killed. It's the most important lesson any kid needs to learn, and I applaud this film for making a start at inculcating it in our youth.

The flying car in which Harry's Hogwarts friends rescue him from the suburbs at the beginning of the film signals one of Chamber of Secrets' trickiest tasks: taking Harry into puberty, the horrific world of crushes, driving lessons, and Hobbesian savagery. Here one must give the Brits their due: if Americans had made this film, just imagine the horrors which would have flashed on our suffering retinae, the pure corn syrup in which we would have had to wade, as we followed Harry through junior high. But Harry, God love'im, has a bit of dignity. There's a hint of infatuation between him and his friend's little sister. This, again, is very traditional: the Eton boy is supposed to marry the friend's sister, whom he meets when invited over during the hols.

Showing admirable restraint, the girl stays unconscious during most of her big scene with Harry. She lies stunned in a subterranean grotto in which lurks the Basilisk, whose stare is deadly. The Basilisk, when it does appear, is a very beautiful beast. Would it could have slithered through the film on its own. Unfortunately, it's the pet of a character who turns out to be the big villain. This character, Tom Riddle, begins well: he's a former student of Hogwarts who's transferred his essence to a small leatherbound book. Harry has to interrogate the book, which he does in a very satisfying, intelligent scene.

But by this time the film is two hours old, the kiddies are fidgeting, and the director felt a desperate need to braid all the quite wonderful spectacles offered us into a plot. That's where poor Tom Riddle comes in. Actually, his name should be Tom Exposition. He does his best to tie every strand of the plot, every wonder we've seen, to himself, so that Harry can defeat him and end the film. It doesn't work; the last fifteen minutes of the film are all talk, and bad talk at that. But as I said, that leaves a balance sheet two hours to the good. And for a kids' film about puberty, that's something to be grateful for.

Look, I wish I could've panned it. But it wasn't that bad.

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