<i>Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets</i>
Last year, reviewing Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, I said my major gripe was that it was so very much like the book on which it was based. This time around, the producers have seen little reason to change the formula - and why would you, considering The Philosopher's Stone 's box office receipts?
One of last year's key reasons for this book-as-film criticism was the possibility that the films would not stand up on their own over time. I'm please to say that I've revised my opinion after movie two.
The darker and more action-filled book two is perfectly designed for the cinema - and seeing it on screen brings those darker aspects home. There were times in the first film where it almost felt too Blyton-esque - a Famous Five adventure with magic.
In the new Harry Potter instalment, The Chamber Of Secrets , there are some seriously scary bits - which the cinematography and art direction make all too real. My companion (who admits to a mild level of arachnophobia) was seriously close to not coping during the spider scene.
When it comes to our three protagonists - Harry, Ron and Hermione - all three actors (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson respectively) have a much stronger sense of their roles, and their portrayals would make any Harry Potter fan proud.
Radcliffe gets to push his acting talents further than looking perpetually wide-eyed - this movie's Harry is much more of a hero. He does save the day, rather than doing it by accident. But it is Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley who's the scene stealer this time around. He is an excellent comic foil to Hermione's diligence - always capped off by a face loaded with expression.
Watch out for Ron and the spiders, Ron and the slugs, Ron and the owl, Ron and the wand, Ron and the... well, you get the idea.
The peripheral characters - a word I use lightly, since there is never such a thing in the world of Harry Potter - are just that in this second movie. It is more obviously focused on the three central characters, with the adults contributing only what the plot requires of them. This is, considering the calibre of the cast, a shame. But given that the film already runs to 161 minutes, it would appear a necessary sacrifice.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about Kenneth Branagh as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart (he of the coif and self-promoting prose). Again, my companion (a Branagh fan) thought he was great, but I'm not so sure. It felt a little like he was going through the motions. Dare I say it, I even think Hugh Grant (who was also up for the role) would have been better - before the trendy new haircut.
It's also sad that we won't see more of Richard Harris as Dumbledore. I enjoyed his relationship with Daniel Radcliffe. All his acting appeared to be in his eyes - which is admittedly all you have to work with, when you're wearing a huge cloak and beard.
He-who-must-not-be named was great too. Encountering him in more human form only enhances the sense of evil that carries through the books, and now the films.
Roll on Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban (currently scheduled for early 2004) - I can't wait to see who plays Sirius Black. He's my favourite.