There's no questioning the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; aside from making the most money in the U.S. in 2001, its combined box office take was almost a billion dollars. To say that the second film (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) had some tough shoes to fill was an understatement, but the cast and crew wanted to strike while the iron was hot, and they worked on production of Chamber of Secrets almost immediately after wrapping The Sorcerer's Stone. In the second film, it's clear that the cast has become more comfortable and skilled in the performing arts.
Like the first film, Steve Kloves adapted the second J.K. Rowling novel, for which Chris Columbus directed. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is back home before he starts his second year at Hogwarts and is surprised one night by a mysterious house elf named Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones, Infamous). Dobby warns him not to return to Hogwarts but doesn't explain why. However, Hogwarts really is home to Harry and he returns nonetheless, only to witness strange occurrences at Hogwarts, which lead to a mystery that threatens all at the school.
This new installment of the series introduces more characters from the book, including Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs, Black Hawk Down), father to Draco (Tom Felton), Harry's young rival at Hogwarts. Like father like son, Lucius and Draco have the same view of "muggles," a wizard's term for the nonmagical. The Malfoy's feel that all students at Hogwarts and anyone with wizarding skills should be pure blood, and that any wizard or witch who comes from nonmagical parents poisons the well. Prejudicely referred to as "mudbloods." While it's unclear at the time what role Lucius might play in the future, Isaacs plays the role of the villain rather well.
Along with Isaacs, Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie) joins Hogwarts' staff as the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lockhart. Lockhart is an attractive wizard whose claims of battles through the years have swooned many females. Yet when under stress, Lockhart tends to fold. Branagh portrays him with a great deal of fun and wit, and his performance is a welcome break from the regular cast.
That's not meant to be a knock on them, since they're there to advance the developments and character arcs without impedance. Radcliffe shows us Harry in a slightly new light in Chamber of Secrets; while he does have more self-confidence and awareness than in The Sorcerer's Stone, he's not nearly aware of his importance as "the chosen one." Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have matured a little but remain slightly underused, but it is nice to see how some of the kids' actions blossom into things of larger consequence in the books.
The staff members of Hogwarts all play new aspects of their roles as well, with McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Snape (Alan Rickman) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who expand on their existing roles well. A special mention goes to Richard Harris as Dumbledore, in one of his last roles before his death before the film's premiere. He helps Harry think about his destiny and about whether he was, in fact, the heir of Slytherin. They both know of Dumbledore's role in Hogwarts and his involvement with a mysterious student wizard named Tom Riddle, though Harry clearly doesn't know as much as Dumbledore does. There's a little less mischief in Dumbledore compared to the first film, and instead we find more of the nurturing and paternal figure that he becomes in later films portrayed by Michael Gambon.
So while The Sorcerer's Stone introduced all to the Harry Potter universe, The Chamber of Secrets sets in motion the pieces for an intriguing battle, serving as an effective transitional piece in the story of the child wizard with the lightning bolt-shaped scar.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The VC-1 encode on the 160-minute theatrical cut and the 174-minute extended version works fine and appears to be similar to the previous Blu-ray release for the film. There is more image detail over the course of the film, and black levels are deep and consistent throughout the feature. The colors look excellent, particularly in the scne when Harry and the Weasleys travel to Diagon alley through the fireplace. While there are occasional bouts of image softness, it's less prevalent than in the first film, and this represents a solid high-definition reproduction,
Like the Year One set, both the theatrical and extended cuts come with DTS-HD Master Audio surround tracks, though the theatrical cut has a 6.1 channel mix versus the extended cut's 5.1. The film is more sonically involved than the first, and you'll be able to appreciate the improved audio from the start, beginning when Ron and Harry go to Hogwarts in the flying car and the train catches up to them. The earlier quidditch battles soar through all channels with clarity, and in quieter scenes, the rear channels picks up things like torches lighting in a Hogwarts' hallway. Subwoofer activity is abundant throughout the film when necessary, and the soundstage is demonstrated effectively throughout the feature. This is a clear upgrade over the existing versions.
Note: I've talked about the packaging on the first film, and it is in the same for the second, so I'm going to presume that subsequent "Years" will appear accordingly. I'm also attacking the extras as before, by disc, and as follows:
Disc One: Again, you get the theatrical (2:40:55) and extended cuts with this disc, and a Warner In-Movie Experience on the theatrical version, which is hosted by Columbus. Columbus' approach to this track is similar to the one in the first film, so he's a little bit more entertaining than informational. He recalls the changes and additions in casting for the film and discusses how changes in the production helped illustrate the scale he wanted to accomplish. There's a little more behind-the-scenes footage tossed in this track also, along with storyboards for a few shots and some explanations of other scenes and their inspirations from other films. Like the first film, it's a nice complement to the experience. And as is the case with the first film, this disc is BD-Live enabled.
Disc Two: The second part of the "Creating the World of Harry Potter: The Casting" documentary focuses on choices for not only characters' roles but the selection of directors as well (1:20:03) for each film. This piece is much more detailed and broader than the first part and features dated, on-set interviews, more recent segments, or both, with almost all of the major actors in the franchise. Columbus talks about how the kids have approached the films through the years, and the kids talk about how they've changed their approach to playing the characters. The new cast additions through the years discuss initial thoughts on the franchise and chat about what they wanted to do with their characters, and they occasionally talk about their thoughts on the main kids as actors. The cast who was around for the first two films recall how Harris' death impacted them, and Radcliffe talks about how Harris (and later Oldman) served as influential figures in his life. Gambon's replacing of Harris is also covered (with not a lot of film from Gambon, strangely enough), and everyone praises his work.
This piece isn't limited to thoughts from the cast and select crew; the later directors in the franchise (Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates) talk about their contributions to the franchise and working with the child actors, and the kids discuss how each leader helped them improve as actors. Producer David Heyman also shares his two cents on the new directors through the years, and Ralph Fiennes talks about changing into Voldemort. There even appears to be brief clips of film from the last films here too. All in all, it's an excellent piece, much more engrossing that the first part and makes me anticipate future installments.
From there, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Revealed (13:02) is the HBO First Look piece on the film, with dated footage from Columbus and all of the stars, as they talk about the differences from the last film, and the new characters are introduced and explained. This is your basic "making-of" look at the film. 19 deleted scenes are next (17:02), and aside from an interesting sequence where Harry watches the Malfoys in a shop, most everything here is quick hits of less than a minute. Screen test footage of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint follows (11:53) and is nice to look at for kitsch sake, but little else. Three trailers and 17 TV spots complete the disc.
Disc Three: Everything from the previous standard-definition releases appears to have been brought over here. 19 deleted scenes (17:40) replicate those on the second disc, while "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves" (16:11) is just that, with an interviewer who discusses how Rowling helped in Kloves' process of writing the screenplay, though it would appear they bump into the "what's coming next" question of future books without asking the question. Kloves talks about the character evolution in the screenplays his working relationship with Rowling. It's a nice look at the other side of the production. There is almost 20 minutes of on-set interviews with Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, Harris, Coltrane, Isaacs and Branagh, among others, who share their thoughts on the film and production. Completing the disc is a stills gallery and several set-top games, including a trivia contest that includes film footage.
Disc Four: A digital copy of the theatrical cut of the film for the iPods, Zunes and other MP3 players of the world.
As expected, the 48-page photo and art book in this set has different photos and art than the book in The Sorcerer's Stone, so that complementary approach is appreciated.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a welcome installment into the Blu-ray collector's library for more about what it brings to the table than the story it tells. The "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentary is excellent. Meanwhile, in technical merits, the lossless track is worth the upgrade alone. If you're serious about collecting this Ultimate Editions you're likely to buy this anyway, but if you're peripherally interested in the franchise, it's worth considering.