Review by Heather Metherell
Unless youve been hiding under a rock for the past six years, youll be only too aware of the phenomenon that is Harry Potter, and chances are, youll be one of the millions of fans who are eagerly awaiting the release of the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Director, Christopher Columbus, who brought the magic of JK Rowlings incredibly popular novels to life on the big screen a year ago, with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, has really pulled the stops out with its sequel.
Bigger, bolder and bursting with state-of-the-art special effects, there is no doubt that this film, with its near-faultless casting, will delight wannabe wizards the world over.
Having spent the summer away from Hogwarts, in the company of his overbearing Aunt and Uncle, played to great comic effect by Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths, Harry is not a happy wizard. He is also worried that his new friends have forgotten him, as neither Hermione (Emma Watson) nor Ron (Rupert Grint) have returned his letters.
Then, as if by magic, Dobby the House Elf the latest in a long line of irksome computer-generated characters appears and confesses to stopping Harrys mail in a bid to prevent him returning to Hogwarts. It appears that theres more trouble brewing, should he return.
Once there, however, Harry discovers that the dangerous chamber of secrets has been opened and that there is a plot to rid Hogwarts of all students with muggle (non wizard) blood.
A series of mysterious incidences then threaten the closure of the school, forcing Harry and Ron to battle against the dark force lurking behind the scenes.
Chamber of Secrets is far funnier than the first film, though it does seem to use up all of the best jokes in the first half hour. The Weasleys provide most of the laughs, with Julie Walters and Mark Thomas on fine form as mum and dad, and Ron (Grint), who has a natural talent for comedy, looking as stunned and confused as ever.
It is also a lot scarier than The Philosopher's Stone, and, though Chris Columbus maintains that children wont be too frightened, this is not a film for anyone whos afraid of snakes or spiders, particularly giant ones!
One big surprise is the presence of Shakespearean actor, Kenneth Branagh (sporting an impressive blonde quiff), who camps it up in the role of Gilderoy Lockheart, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts.
Branagh has shown his ability to play the fool before, in films such as Much Ado About Nothing, and is fantastically cringe-worthy as the vain, foppish, yet strangely charming, Lockheart.
Also of note is Jason Isaacs, another new addition to the cast, who plays the slimy, manipulative Lucius Malfoy, father of Harrys Slytherin nemesis, Draco Malfoy. Columbus describes Isaacs as one of the greatest villains in modern filmmaking, and he doesnt disappoint, despite wearing a waist-length blonde wig.
Of the returning cast members, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, seems much more confident this time around, while the likes of Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and, of course, the late Richard Harris, appear to be having a blast.
The music is once again provided by the incomparable John Williams, who really captures the magic and the excitement of the story with his vibrant score, while the look of the film is fantastic - this is a movie that tries very hard to achieve a lot and, most of the time, succeeds.
If there is a criticism, its that proceedings do start to drag towards the end, while it is also a shame that we are subjected to such a mawkish Hollywood ending and that the comedy is not maintained throughout.
Overall, however, The Chamber of Secrets is a great film for people of all ages, which may even cast its spell over Potter sceptics.