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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chris Columbus's second entry in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, opens at the Dursley's house at 4 Privet Drive, where Harry has made the upwardly mobile move from the cupboard under the stairs to his gluttonous cousin Dudley's "second bedroom." Soon he encounters the "house elf" Dobby, who has dropped in to warn Harry away from attending Hogwarts this semester lest he encounter great danger. Dobby nearly succeeds at this task by getting Harry into hot water with the Dursleys, who seek to punish the lad by confining him to his room indefinitely, but Harry is eventually rescued via floating car by the Weasleys, with whom he will stay until the start of school. However, Harry's troubles have just begun. The young wizard is beset by all manner of bizarre misfortunes, and the boys are threatened with, but narrowly avoid, expulsion. Nevertheless, it's an inauspicious beginning to a school year that keeps on getting worse — Harry's rival, Draco Malfoy, has been named to the Slytherin Quidditch team as its seeker, and his father's armed the whole team with top-of-the-line broomsticks. Ronald's magic wand is broken, rendering all of his spells disastrously errant. And, worst of all, the ominous sounding "Chamber of Secrets" has been opened, which threatens the very lives of Hogwart's students. The Chamber and its history comprise the thematic heart of this second Potter installment, fleshing out for the first time in the series the idea of "Purebloods" and "Mudbloods." The Chamber, we are told, was created by Salazar Slytherin after his attempt to bar Mudbloods from attending Hogwarts was thwarted, and it has the ability to purge all Mudbloods in one horrible and swift magic pogrom. It's awfully weighty stuff for a kid's film, but this troublesome concept of ethnic cleansing in the magic community is effectively muted, and the film becomes a more gentle meditation on discovering one's own identity. Notable new faces are in the mix, in particular Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. Good as the new additions are, the returning cast members are inconsistent, and the children are irritatingly off. Perhaps the truncated production time for this enormous production hampered Columbus from being able to finesse his younger actors. As befitting a worldwide box office sensation, Warner Brothers has spared no expense or effort in transferring Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to DVD. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is gorgeous, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (offered in both English and Spanish) is impeccable. But the extras, while plentiful, are a mixed bag. The best of the lot can be found on Disc Two in the "Behind Hogwarts" feature, a nice little interview with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves (16:11). Alos on board are an interactive "Dumbledore's Office," a "Build a Scene" section, production sketches, interviews with "Students, Professors and More," 19 additional scenes, and plenty more. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcover.
—Clarence Beaks

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