HD DVD
Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
2.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Street Date:
December 11th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
December 12th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2002
Studio:
Warner Home Video
Length:
161 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Non-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

If 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' was the get-it-out-of-the-way first chapter in the series that had to set everything up, then 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' is the one where the filmmakers could finally let loose and just tell a great story. Superior in all respects to the first film (which was wasn't bad in and of itself), 'Chamber of Secrets' is more fun, more fanciful, and more engaging. Although I wouldn't call it the best Harry Potter movie, it certainly steered the series in the right direction.

Shot back-to-back with 'Sorcerer's Stone,' 'Chamber of Secrets' features most of the same creative personnel as its predecessor. Director Chris Columbus returns, as does screenwriter Steve Kloves and all of the cast. But if the huge weight of tackling the very first big-screen Potter left Columbus and Kloves a bit too focused on cramming in every last magical cranny of Rowling's text, with 'Chamber of Secrets' they are, if not completely liberated, than certainly far more confident to move beyond a simple carbon copy of the book in celluloid form.

The narrative twists and turns of 'Chamber of Secrets' don't get anywhere near as dark as Rowling's later installments, but the movie still tones down the family-friendly excesses of 'Sorcerer's Stone' to positive effect. As Rowling would continue to do with each of the installments in the series, 'Chamber of Secrets' repeats many of the same basic scenarios and thematic motifs from the first story, but adds new layers of depth by revealing new secrets. Harry (Daniel Radcliff) will learn a host of new powers, but he'll also get into more trouble -- Rowling is particularly adept at using magic as a counterpoint to adolescence. Likewise, Harry's relationships with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) will grow more intertwined and more rich with emotion, offering tantalizing hints at future complications to come. Rowling also fleshes out the roles of the adult characters, integrating them into the story to surprisingly resonant effect, particularly Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid and Richard Harris' Dumbledore, both of whom will eventually become mentors (of very different kinds) for Harry.

Even better, Columbus and his team of filmmaking wizards finally begin to let a bit of darkness creep into the visuals of 'Chamber of Secrets.' Though the sets are the same as the first time around (a nice benefit of the back-to-back shooting approach), there are more dark corners hiding at the edges of the frame, with new director of photography Roger Pratt painting his shots with a grimier palette. There is also a more palpable sense of danger to the action, with the surreal visions that haunt Harry being more visceral and frightening than anything seen in 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Even the recycling of the same action setpiece -- the famous Quidditch match -- is more suspenseful and far better executed in terms of special effects.

Having said all that, 'Chamber of Secrets' is not a perfect film. Its 166 minutes are packed with so many superfluous bits of Rowling's text that many of the book's most meaty dramatic scenes are left feeling rushed. Although I continue to find it admirable that Columbus and Kloves recognized that for diehard Potter cultists, even the smallest details matter, it would seem that with 'Chamber of Secrets' the filmmakers still hadn't quite learned that even in the world of Harry Potter, sometimes less is more.

Still, in beginning to introduce the richer, more complex themes that would dominate later installments in the series, 'Chamber of Secrets' is the first film in the franchise that genuinely got me hooked. 'Sorcerer's Stone' was a perfectly solid set-up film, but for me, 'Chamber of Secrets' is where the Harry Potter series truly takes sail.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Like the film itself, the visual sheen of 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' is a clear step up from 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Though it still doesn't hit the stylistic heights of later chapters in the series, new director of photography John Seale infuses 'Chamber of Secrets' with a rich palette that takes centerstage in this first-ever high-def transfer of the flick.

Warner provides a 1080p/VC-1 encode (identical to the Blu-ray) framed at the proper aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Like 'Sorcerer's Stone,' there is some grain present as well as a bit of softness, but otherwise the source is in excellent shape. Gone is the misty-filtered look of the first film, replaced with an image that boasts noticeably better depth and clarity, particularly in wider shots. Close-ups are also more textured, and although the film still has a warmer look than the future Harry Potter installments, it's much less bland than 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Fleshtones are also slightly improved, with faces no longer suffering from the muddy and undefined sheen of the original film.

Color reproduction is the most striking upgrade. Deeper tones have much more pop, particularly crimsons, blues, and the film's frquent use of a green motif. Thankfully, there is no downside to the heightened hues, with no chroma noise or bleeding. The encode itself is also in tip-top shape, with no compression artifacts apparent, nor any intrusive edge enhancement. A very fine transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Warner offers up another pair of high-res audio tracks for the second installment in Harry Potter series, granting this HD DVD edition with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix, while the Blu-ray gets a matching PCM 5.1 Surround track (both at 48kHz/16-bit). Both mixes are quite impressive, and clearly benefit from the film's strong surround presence and sustained aggressiveness.

What's so much fun about the Harry Potter films from a sound design perspective is that the film's magical milieu is perfectly suited to audio gimmicks. The surrounds come alive with little attention paid to "realism," which is just how it should be. Discrete effects whiz by just for the fun of it, while more aggressive scenes often feature a true "wall of sound" effect (the Quidditch match and Harry's climactic descent into the Chamber of Secrets are a couple of great examples). Sustained atmosphere is playful even in the film's quieter scenes, while John Williams' score is once again displayed to wonderful effect, with specific instruments effectively directed to individual channels in the mix.

Dynamics also hold up quite well -- perhaps even better than in 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Having watched both films back-to-back, I don't know if I just got used to all the British accents, but dialogue had a crisper and more pronounced feel, and the use of deep bass was even stronger during the Quidditch tournament. Balance is again superb, with all the various elements in the mix (dialogue, effects and music) never fighting each other for dominance. Simply put, 'Chamber of Secrets' is a sonic thrill ride.

(Note that although Warner has clearly made efforts to offer up equivalant high-res audio tracks for both next-gen editions of this release there are some distinct differences between the two formats when it comes to secondary audio options. First off, all of the Dolby Digital tracks on this HD DVD edition are encoded with EX surround, versus standard Dolby Digital surround on the Blu-ray. Secondly, while the Blu-ray edition features nearly a dozen foriegn dubs, this HD DVD features only four -- for the complete list, see the "disc details section" of this review).

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Porting over all of the extras from the 2003 DVD release, the supplements package included here for 'Chamber of Secrets' is a bit more well-rounded than the one included for 'Sorcerer's Stone,' but unfortunately that's not saying much. (Sadly, Warner has not spent any cash to upgrade these dated materials, presenting this entire package in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only.)

  • Featurette: "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves"(SD, 16 minutes) - Making a welcome first appearance on a Potter disc, Rowling discusses some of the main plot points of 'Chamber of Secrets,' and gives Kloves some good-natured ribbing.
  • Featurette: "Building a Scene: Filmmaking Magic" (SD, 17 minutes) - Originally called "Dumbledore's Office" on the old DVD, this is a very nice look at the production design of 'Chamber of Secrets.' Although the title is a bit of a misnomer (we don't actual see any one single scene being built), this one's a kid-friendly introduction to the basics that go into the creating the sets, lighting and costumes for a film.
  • "Interviews with Students, Professors & More" (SD, 20 minutes) - Essentially a video Q&A, here you can click through a series of about a dozen questions posed to various cast members, and watch a short (usually around a minute) video answer to the query. Most are innocuous queries, so don't expect a great deal of depth. Participants include: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh and Jason Isaacs.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 18 minutes) - Much more substantial than the excised footage on 'Sorcerer's Stone,' these 18 scenes contain quite a wealth of character detail and even some cool cut effects scenes (including more Quidditch). It's impressive that Warner went to the trouble of having all of these scenes fully completed, matching the production values of the film itself.
  • "Year One at Hogwarts" (SD, 2 minutes) - This is simply a 2-minute recap of the first film -- as if anyone watching 'Chamber of Secrets' hasn't already seen 'Sorcerer's Stoe' ten times?
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD) - The film's original trailer, again in standard-def only.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

None.

Final Thoughts

More confident, fanciful and involving than 'Sorcerer's Stone,' 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' proved that the franchise was moving in the right direction and nicely set the stage for the later (and even more thrilling) installments. As an HD DVD release, this one's also a step up, boasting even stronger video, audio and supplements than its predecessor. An easy recommend for Harry Potter fans, and worth a look for all.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD
  • HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1
  • 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit)
  • English Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround 5.1 (640kbps)
  • French Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround 5.1 (640kbps)
  • Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround 5.1 (640kbps)
  • Japanese Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround 5.1 (640kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • Japanese Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Film Clips
  • Theatrical Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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