04 January 2011
Well, the story at least has a lot more plot cohesion here, and in fact for the most part I wasn't bored or irritated in general, though there were an awful lot of suspiciously plot-hole shaped questions I had about the story as we went along. It's also making aims at themes, though I'm not sure to what end, to be honest. So much talk of racial purity and class warfare, but I can't tell you how either of those things factor into the story in a meaningful way. The Malfoys scoff openly at Ron for being poor and Hermione for being common muggle trash, but it's odd because Harry is equal to or superior to them in both categories (I keep wondering why that mountain of gold he inherited in Sorcerer's Stone never comes back up, or why he doesn't help out his struggling friends the Weasleys), and while we are led to believe that perhaps Harry is the direct descendent of Salazar Slytherin (I think I got that right) he turns out to be, apparently, the heir of Godric Gryffindor instead, though Tom Riddle calls his mother a Mudblood (mixed breed). Still, if what Hagrid says is right and nobody's got pure blood, then Harry's as well off racially as any, or better.
Additionally, Tom Riddle has apparently hypnotized Ron's sister Ginny and made her write hateful things on the walls about the Mudbloods and seems intent on killing them, until he admits to dropping the ruse as soon as he sees he can lure Potter in instead. He also mentions that he, too, is born of muggle parents, and so I'm just confounded as to what bloodlines have to do with anything here. As Hagrid says himself, it's all "codswallop," but why include it in the story? As a way of building tension around Harry's revealed bloodline? To call into question the whole Slytherin-versus-Griffindor thing and allow us to learn from Dumbledore that Harry pulled a Rogue on some of Voldemort's powers (like confidence and resourcefulness, apparently? or so says Dumbles) during that scar-making attack on him as a baby? The whole repeated theme of who is pure wizard and who is part or all muggle seems bizarre, especially since (as Hermione, Harry, and Voldemort all prove, at least) magical skill seems to have nothing to do with it. Maybe there's some commentary for kids here that racism is a bunch of malarkey, because I'm not seeing the value otherwise. Likewise the moneyed-versus-unmoneyed thing, but that one doesn't come up quite as directly (though it sits one layer behind an awful lot of the story, in things like Dobby, the Yoda-fucked-Jar-Jar-and-look-what-you've-got-now abomination that is apparently the Malfoy's indentured elf servant). So yeah, in short: there does seem to be a smattering of themes here, but I don't know why because they feel arbitrary and poorly integrated into the central story.
As to the plot, it's an awful lot like the first film, though a fair bit tighter. If you accept the Inspector Gadget conceit that the adults are bumblers or somehow "busy" all the time and that the Pennys and Brains of the world have to maintain order and solve the mysteries for them and just generally save the day, then the story works reasonably well. How and why our characters keep being in the right place at the right time seems to work a lot better, even if the number of times they happen to be in the right place at the right time still seems a touch high. Dumbledore and Hagrid fell into and out of peril so rapidly and so arbitrarily I got a little bit of vertigo, but at least the storytellers gave us a reason they weren't around at the story's climax -- though I find it tough to buy that Snape, who seems intent on quietly keeping Potter alive and doing good from the dark side, would risk so much to show up Lockhart by sending the blowhard in alone to fight the monster and save the school. I guess you could argue Snape never expected Lockhart to know where the Chamber was, or that he'd be brave enough to go in if he did (and of course Lockhart wasn't), but it still leaves Snape backing out of active duty and allowing the school to be closed down without even trying to save the day. That hardly sounds like the Snape who chased Quirrell all around the place and thwarted his every scheme against Potter in the background of last year's story. But whatever; the bottom line remains, if you don't stop to wonder what the adults are doing or why, the story moves along a lot better than in The Sorcerer's Stone. Any improvement is good, right?
The only other thing I have to say -- which is true of both films but I had a lot to say about the first one and didn't get around to mentioning this -- is how awful, how terribly fucking awful, the opening scenes of each movie are. Harry's muggle aunt and uncle and their Augustus-Gloot-meets-Veruca-Salt son are so unbearably loathsome that it takes me another ten or fifteen minutes after their departure from the film to start caring about anything. They are drawn so broadly, and are so bland, so unrealistic and unfunny, that in both films (which start depressingly similarly, by the way) I basically don't care anything about the lame adventures on the ride to Hogwarts, and only check back in once things settle down. In Sorcerer's Stone that meant I didn't get into the movie until somewhere around the stairwell confrontation with Malfoy and the Sorting Hat sequence. Here it meant I barely registered the ridiculous and thoroughly unnecessary flying-car ride or pounding they take inside that tree monster thing. I didn't get into the story until Snape catches Ron and Harry and threatens to have them expelled. In each case, the despicable opening scenes keep me at a disdainful distance from the story until about forty minutes in, and make act one a bitter pill indeed. I cannot express to you how much I hate those two, and I know I've seen both Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths in other, more respectable roles, but I honestly hope I never have to look at their faces ever again. I'm already recoiling in horror at the mere thought that I have at least five more films that no doubt each open with those two and their stupid, poorly written and poorly conceived comedy-of-hate routines.
Ha. But overall, yes, Chamber of Secrets is a big step up from Sorcerer's Stone. I've made it through the two crummy movies that everyone seems to need to apologize for, and varying reports say the next one, Cuarón's Prisoner of Azkaban is either the last shitty one or the first good one. I tried to watch it once and just couldn't get engaged -- I wonder if I made it past that forty-minute mark, when the foul taste of the Dursleys has been cleansed off the palate, or not. Soon I'll watch it and let you know.