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The magic is back!
Harry Potter turns 12 and returns to Hogwarts
for another chapter in his ongoing battle with evil

Reviewed by John Orr

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is another fully delightful realization by director Chris Columbus of one of J.K. Rowling's wonderful books.

If you've read the book, you know what happens in this movie, for the most part. Not every detail of the book is in the movie; it would have to be eight hours instead of its two hours and 41 minutes.

But the main points are there, plus a few minor surprises that Columbus and screenwriter Steven Kloves came up with that aren't in the book.

Harry, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is a year older and back in the vicious keeping of his creepy relatives, the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and pudgy Dudley (Harry Melling) are preparing for an important business dinner in their cookie-cutter suburban home.

As Uncle Vernon makes clear in the pre-dinner rehearsal, Harry's duty during the dinner is to remain quiet in his room and pretend he doesn't exist.

But when Harry gets back upstairs — to what had been Dudley's second bedroom — he finds a new character waiting for him, Dobby the house elf. Dobby looks something like the world's ugliest chihuahua dog, standing on its hind legs, but is a lot more appealing.

"Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts!" Dobby tearfully warns Harry. Dobby knows something evil and dangerous is under way. Harry, of course, can't wait to get away from the nasty Dursleys and return to his true home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The war of wills leads to a hilarious and disastrous dinner for the Dursleys and bars on the window for Harry.

But it's Harry's 12th birthday, and three of the red-haired Weasley brothers — Ron, Fred and George — arrive in a flying Ford Anglia to pull out the bars and rescue their friend.

And so begins another year at Hogwarts, and another chapter in Harry's continuing battle with the evil Voldemort, who murdered his parents when Harry was a baby, and gave Harry his famous lightning-shaped scar.

Voldemort had tried to kill the baby Harry with a forbidden curse, but Harry's mother's love for him -- she died trying to protect him -- bounced the curse back at Voldemort, who while not killed, at least lost his corporeal form.

Voldemort is real dang cranky about that.

We don't specifically know it's Voldemort behind the bad stuff going on at Hogwarts this year, but in the wizard world, Voldemort is pretty much the root of all evil.

The trouble starts with Filch's cat, Mrs. Norris, who is found petrified and hanging from a wall on which a warning has been smeared: "The chamber of secrets has been opened, enemies of the heir ... beware.''

Then a student is found petrified, with Nearly Headless Nick the ghost also petrified and floating nearby in midair.

The Chamber of Secrets, we are told by Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), was rumored to have been built nearly a thousand years before by one of the founders of Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin, with a great beast inside and secret access known only to his heir.

Harry and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson both reprise their roles, and are wonderful in them) resume their detective ways in an effort to save themselves and Hogwarts.

Along for the ride this time, hilariously, is Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, the new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, and a complete twit. Shirley Henderson brings the ghost Moaning Myrtle to the screen and makes her more fun and amusing than in the novel. Robbie Coltrane is back, and wonderful, as Hagrid, keeper of the keys at Hogwarts. Jason Isaacs, who has a gift for playing nasty men, shows up as Lucius Malfoy, father of that creepy little snot, Draco (Tom Felton).

The screen-commanding Alan Rickman is back as Professor Severus Snape and is part of an exciting dueling-wizards scene with Lockhart.

There are lots of treats for the eye, including Ron and Harry's ride to Hogwarts in the flying Ford Anglia, the Weasley's wonderful house, the baby mandrake roots (don't stick your finger in those screaming root mouths!) the immense spiders of the Dark Forest, Dumbledore's office — filled with a set-designer's pizza-dream of magical relics and portraits of snoozing past headmasters — and an even better game of quidditch than in the first movie.

As in the first movie, one of the funniest bits of book dialogue is missing from the movie, but we can't reveal it here without giving away too much plot. Later, maybe. Overall, a delightful movie, with lots of screaming, laughter and even applause from the preview audience during the film.

It is director Columbus' last turn at the Harry Potter helm, in all likelihood, as he moves on to other projects, and Alfonso Cuarón, who directed "Y Tu Mamá También" — something of a surprise hit in 2001 — takes over the magical-movie-making reins for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," which is due out in 2004.

It's turning out to be just as frustrating to wait for each new movie as it is to wait for Rowling to finish the next novel in her series each time. Two years until the next movie!

And the fifth novel, "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix," won't be out till ... well ... THAT issue is the subject of several hard drives full of speculation on the web. United Kingdom news sources, however, say it may be on the shelves in time for this Christmas! (Which makes plenty of marketing sense; it would be a key gift under millions of Christmas trees.)

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

Oh, pop for the big screen. Then, later, buy the DVD.

See cast, credit and other details about "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" at Internet Movie Data Base.

Rupert Grint

On the way to Hogwarts

Daniel Radcliffe

Emily Watson

Dobby the house elf

Richard Harris

Kenneth Branagh

Jason Isaacs

David Bradley

Bonnie Wright