Not since J.R.R Tolkien and his Hobbit books has a single person been responsible for such a monumentally huge pop culture phenomenon. Even though the first book was an immediate smash hit, nobody could’ve predicted that the story of the little orphan boy wizard would eventually become a franchise that would eclipse both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in popularity but in an alternate reality where the Chamber of Secrets was a dud, it might not have been.
If polled, I’d wager few fans would name The Chamber of Secrets as their favorite book or film and even less would claim it’s the best of either medium. It’s beloved because it’s part of the series but by and large, it’s often dismissed or overlooked but I’d argue, the entire franchise hinged on the quality of this film. The first film was going to make money regardless. Quality was irrelevant. Long before there was ever a script or director attached, the first idea pitched to J.K. Rowling was for the first film to be an amalgamation of the first two books and it was going to be animated. Steven Spielberg was in talks and he wanted Haley Joel Osment to play the titular wizard.
She, being the only sane person in the room, said that was a fucking terrible idea and vetoed it on the spot. I have no confirmation that she actually cursed but considering she had enough power on the project to shit can Spielberg, it’s safe to assume she not only cursed but probably even called the then 10 year old Osment a wanker to his face.
Rowling don’t play.
But in a world where she didn’t wield that amount of power, Spielberg’s take would most likely exist and even though it’s arguably the worst idea he (or anyone for that matter) ever had, it still would’ve made a shit ton of money. The hype train was unreal and nothing could derail it. Except of course, a shitty sequel.
Audiences are like chickens: they’re dumb, they’re easily amused but you can only fuck them too many times before they run away. No amount of bad word of mouth could kill the first installment of a beloved franchise. It took a couple of shitty films before the fans turned their backs on the DCU and although Universal’s Dark Universe was dead on arrival, I believe the shitty reception of I, Frankenstein (2014), Dracula Untold (2014) and Victor Frankenstein (2015) contributed to the Mummy‘s (2017) ultimate failure, even though those films had nothing to do with that universe.
More than just being successful, The Chamber of Secrets needed to be good and while Rowling deservedly gets praise for writing an excellent series of books and screenwriter Steve Kloves did a phenomenal job adapting them all minus the Order of the Phoenix (which coincidentally happens to be the worst film in the franchise), the film and by extension–the entire franchise, works because of Christopher Columbus.
Among the million other things he had to accomplish, he had the impossible job of hiring no name actors to bring the iconic literary characters to life and while I don’t think they’re particularly good in the first one (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint seemed like they were given one direction apiece and that was “annoying” and “confused” respectively), I think the cast, as well as every other aspect of the film, is exponentially better than its predecessor.
In the new movie, Harry (Daniel Radcliff) and his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts for their second year but something is amiss. There’s an alarming mystery afoot, and it has all the professors such as McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Snape (Alan Rickman) and even headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) worried.
Everything about this film is better constructed and more ambitious than the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). On top of expanding the mythology and universe, the film weaves a compelling mystery. Is the fabled Chamber of Secrets real, and if so, where is it and why does it exist? More over, what the hell keeps attacking the students of Hogwarts and are these two things related? Has He Who Must Not Be Named returned or is there an even more sinister presence roaming the halls?
Far darker in tone than your typical children’s film, the movie isn’t afraid to get a tad spooky. There’s shrunken heads, ghosts, monsters and a creepy extended scene involving giant spiders.
But it’s not all gloom and doom.
In addition to the the returning cast of veterans and newbies, the film also introduces a collection of delightful new faces to the mix. There’s the lovely Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), the wonderfully incompetent and annoyingly egotistical Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), the malevolent douche Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and fan favorite Dobby (Toby Jones). Some are bad, others are good but they all enrich an already spectacular universe.
If the first movie was the setup, this one is most definitely the payoff.
The sequels may all be better films, with more compelling plots but I truly believe none of them would exist or be half as good if this one wasn’t rock steady. J.K Rowling created Harry Potter but the theme song you sing every time you think about the movie or the image you have in your head of Hogwarts or Hedwig or Harry, that’s all Chris Columbus.
He’s the unsung MVP of the series and he, along with The Chamber of Secrets, deserve more respect.