Chris Columbus | 174 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK & USA / English | PG / PG
This extended cut takes the already-lengthy second instalment in the Harry Potter franchise and pushes it to nearly three hours (though if you lop off the extensive end credits it’s more like two-and-three-quarters). As with the extended version of the first film, it was originally created for the US TV premiere, then later released on the Ultimate Edition sets, and simply integrates the DVD’s deleted scenes back into the film.
The difference in running time is 13½ minutes, spread across 19 different extensions. (Per usual, a list can be found here.) As you might guess, many are short snippets, running as little as 18 seconds when viewed among the deleted scenes (and those tend to include scene-setting bits from the theatrical version and a copyright notice). Unsurprisingly, then, many are of little significance, often just fleshing out minor characters (Colin Creevey gets to tell his backstory; Justin Finch-Fletchley gets to introduce himself) or adding comedy beats (a floating cake at the Dursleys’; Crabbe and Goyle bumping into ‘themselves’).
So are any especially beneficial? Well, one fleshes out what happened to the flying car (setting up its return to save the day a few minutes later), and there are extra moments to clarify Harry’s awareness of the other students’ worries about him. There’s a bit more Lockhart, once again showing how self-centred he is (it’s surprising how little Kenneth Branagh is in the film actually, so this is welcome), and a tiny bit more Quidditch. There’s also a nod to a subplot with Filch that then doesn’t go anywhere, and one or two minor continuity errors are accidentally introduced (the most obvious is that Hermione tells Harry and Ron they’ll need to take Crabbe and Goyle’s uniforms when using the Polyjuice potion, but then in a new scene she’s stolen some).
The longest extension comes near the start, when Harry misspeaks while using Floo powder and ends up in the nasty part of Diagon Alley. In the theatrical version he just walks out of the creepy shop, but here he has to hide as Malfoys Senior and Junior enter to sell some items. Though it has the advantage of showing us how Lucius treats his son when out of sight of more respectable wizards, and possibly seeds something for later films (what is the one item Malfoy isn’t prepared to sell?), it dilutes the introduction of Jason Isaacs’ villain, which in the theatrical version came slightly later in the bookshop, where he bumps into Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys as they’re leaving Lockhart’s signing. It’s a more effective, more dramatic introduction to someone who will become a major character as the series progresses.
The film itself has held up well over the last 11 years, I think. Columbus was oft derided as a mediocre director at the time; a workmanlike filmmaker installed to simply guide the book faithfully to the screen. He’s not exactly an astounding presence behind the camera, but he’s more than adequate, and some sequences even exhibit flair. The biggest downside of the adaptation, once again screenwritten by Steve Kloves, is that it lacks tension. J.K. Rowling’s mystery-laden plot is very well constructed, but the adaptation doesn’t pay enough attention to hyping up that it is mysterious. The most glaring omission is that Ginny Weasley, so central to the denouement, barely appears until the finale. On the bright side, the lengthy running time does allow more space for all of the familiar characters to grow — particularly the three leads, who already feel considerably older than in the first film (and this in the only Potter film that was story-accurately shot exactly one year later).
There are, arguably, three notable additions to the cast this time out. The first is Lucius Malfoy who, as discussed, will come into his own later. Then there’s Gilderoy Lockhart, a preening wizard celebrity played with relish by Kenneth Branagh. He’s often very amusing and there’s not enough of him. And then there’s Dobby. Apparently Dobby is a beloved character; apparently kids really like him. I’ve always found him intensely irritating, and was surprised how much Rowling made me warm to him in Deathly Hallows. I thought that might make him more palatable at the start… but it doesn’t. He’s wonderfully realised, though — despite the age of the film, much of the CGI holds up really well.
Chamber of Secrets isn’t the best film the Harry Potter series has to offer — it lacks the introductory wonder of the first and the portentousness of later films. Viewed in isolation, it can also look like a total aside from the series’ main story arc… but, as those familiar with later events will know, there’s actually a lot of important stuff introduced (and, in some cases, dealt with) here. Whatever you think of Rowling as a writer, she did a helluva job plotting out her grand story over seven tales.
In a fortnight’s time, I aid and abet the Prisoner of Azkaban…