'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' countdown: Remembering 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'

nov222002_683In anticipation of the Nov. 19 release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, EW continues its look back at the making of the franchise. Today’s focus: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, director Chris Columbus’ return to Hogwarts. Coming off of his slavishly faithful adaptation of Sorcerer’s Stone, which grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide, Columbus had his critics. He also had his response to them: ”I’ve always felt that if you find a piece of material you love, you really shouldn’t change it,” Columbus told EW in 2002. ”People seem to think I had J.K. Rowling standing over my head with a sledgehammer, which was not the case. She left us alone — and she’s done it again on this picture.” With the Harry Potter merchandising machine in full effect — Tom Felton, then 14, spoke to EW about the surreal experience of torturing a Draco doll that looked like him —  Columbus was still irked by accusations that he had delivered a first film that was nothing more than an excuse for action figures. ”I was very frustrated. Because we could have totally sold out,” he told EW. “I remember reading a review that said, ‘How can I judge it as a movie? It’s a corporate machine.’ And I thought to myself, you are so full of it. That is not what we did!’ Had I turned this thing into all the other horrific ideas that were going around — whether I took it to Hollywood and set it in a high school, put American kids into the production, whatever — I would have been drawn and quartered. I didn’t go in there with some kind of corporate mentality, saying that if we do it this way we’ll make such and such amount of money…. I think we made a classic film.”

Critics, including EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who gave Chamber of Secrets a B+, warmed to Columbus’ reverent take the second time around, and praised the way he brought to life the fear in Hogwarts’ halls as Muggle-born students were threatened (and petrified), Harry and Ron were nearly devoured by giant spiders, and Harry went mano a serpent with a basilisk. As eager as fans were to see the return of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson), they were equally excited to see the two new additions to the cast: Kenneth Branagh, who took a memorable one-time turn as flamboyantly vain Gilderoy Lockhart, the school’s new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Jason Isaacs, who would stick around as Lucius Malfoy, the father of Harry’s chief bully and Slytherin nemesis Draco (Tom Felton). “Any time these two Master Thespians appear, working their facial muscles for fun and profit — and, for that matter, with every juicy scene involving Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, or the late, lamented Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore — The Chamber of Secrets reaches its full power,” Schwarzbaum said. For this, Columbus also deserves some credit, as Isaacs told EW before the film’s release. ”I think Chris’ job consisted entirely of trying to stop me and Ken from trying to out-ham each other. Once you’ve got the wizard’s cloak and the waist-length blond hair and you’re waving a giant wand around, it’s quite hard to stay rooted in Method acting. Chris gave me a lot of ‘Listen, I think they could see that performance in America from here without broadcast. Shrink it down to camera size.”’

The franchise would, of course, rest on the shoulders of Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson, and everyone wondered how they were handling the pressure. ”They’re doing remarkably well,” Columbus told EW. ”I think the reason is that we auditioned the parents. And my biggest question [to them] was, if the kid says, ‘I wanna stop!’ will you let them stop? And they all said yes, which is important to me because Macaulay Culkin [whom Columbus directed in Home Alone and Home Alone 2] was in a situation where they kept putting him in movie after movie after movie.” Indeed, when EW took a look at the stars’ dressing rooms, we found them to be normal teens in the face of global fame: Watson, then 12, had a Brad Pitt calendar above her desk, a spangled purple belt on the floor (she was into fashion even then!), hairbrushes, Hello Kitty stickers, and adoring fan mail. Fourteen-year-old Grint’s room had a mini-billiard table, a guide to the 2002 World Cup, unfinished food, and, as we described it ever so delicately, “a charming poster that deals with the considerable comedic potential of flatulence.” As for Radcliffe’s room, it was “surprisingly neat given his taste for punk rock and Spider-Man and his reputation as a practical joker.” If the stress of filming another blockbuster was getting to them, they didn’t let it show. “We had a week with 300 extras in the Great Hall,” Watson said, “it’s boiling hot, the food stinks, everyone is dying of boredom, and we have to make everybody laugh. It got so bad that Dan had to get up onto the table with Robbie Coltrane [who plays groundskeeper Hagrid] and dance. He did the cancan. He did the macarena. The whole hall was laughing. Ask him about it! He’ll blush.”

By the time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets opened on Nov. 15, 2002 (and grossed a magical $88.4 million, then the third biggest three-day opening ever behind Spider-Man‘s $114.8 million and the first Harry Potter‘s $90.3 million), preproduction had already begun on the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, helmed by Alfonso Cuarón. The young stars were wondering if their real-life growth spurts would size them out of completing the franchise. ”Who knows how many I’ll do?” Radcliffe told EW before Chamber of Secrets’ release. ”I’m doing the third, but after that they probably won’t want me. But it’s been good while it’s lasted.” Finishing the series without Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson is unimaginable at this point, but fans did have to do the thinkable, and envision someone other than Harris in the beloved role of Dumbledore. Harris, who’d taken the part in Sorcerer’s Stone because his granddaughter insisted that she wouldn’t speak to him again if he didn’t, lost his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Oct. 25, 2002, just weeks before Chamber of Secrets hit theaters. ”The kids particularly were very shocked,” Branagh told EW. ”He seemed a sort of grandfather to them. I loved his company. One of my favorite experiences of the whole shoot was a week we spent on location in a tiny hotel. One night Harris and Alan Rickman and I went on until about 4 a.m. with stories that were just so fantastic. He had a great life force. And I miss him.”

What are your favorite memories of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? If there’s one scene you have to watch every time you spot the movie on cable, what is it? For me, it’s when Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, comes to Harry’s rescue and cries his healing tear on Harry’s wound from the basilisk. I just love how even though Harry had been dying, he was respectful enough to tell Fawkes that he’d been brilliant. And then I have to watch Dumbledore tell Harry that he must have shown him real loyalty for Fawkes to aid him, and explain to Harry why he’s in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin — because he’d asked the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor. That’s the difference between him and Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort — Harry choses good over evil. Having that choice, and making it, is what makes you a hero.

More Harry Potter:
‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ countdown: Remembering ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’
EW’s ‘Harry Potter’ Central

Comments (81 total) Add your comment
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  • Lauren

    These posts are great. I’ve grown up with Harry Potter, both books and movies, and I love looking back on them now while waiting for the next movie!

  • Karate Pants

    Must have used an old picture…Harry’s looking much younger on the cover than in the DH trailers. Maybe it’s part of their “look back” – but I personally would have like to see somthing more current (and exciting!).

    • Dave

      Umm that cover is from 2002 when Chamber of Secrets was released. It only makes sense to use that picture since the article is about Chamber of Secrets.

      • Karate Pants

        Sure, I can see that the article is about Chamber of Secrets – but that’s just this excerpt. The hype should obviously be surrounding the release of DH this week.

      • Karate Pants

        Oh, crap. I see that date now. I’m sorry, my mistake. I was confused, thinking they were showing the upcoming cover (and also thinking today is Friday, apparently). I wasn’t a subscriber when this cover was released, so I didn’t remember it as being a past issue.
        Forgive me, Mondays are hard.

      • Mr. Holloway


        It’s both funny and a little tragic that you saw this post with an EW cover and assumed it was Friday already. (If only.)

      • Karate Pants

        I know, it really is.
        I’m going to head over the corner and drool now as the comments (such as anon below) continue to roll in telling me I’m wrong… ;)

      • Lisa Simpson

        You mean it’s not Friday yet? Drat.

    • anon

      that is a look back at the cover that came out with the chamber of secrets.

  • Mr. Holloway

    I think Kenneth Branagh is really funny in this movie…but I still can’t help but wonder how it would’ve turned out if Hugh Grant had been able to play Lockhart. (I think he would’ve killed it the way he nailed his a-holey role in “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”)

    • Kelly

      are you kidding? No one could have played that role as well as Branagh!

      • Mr. Holloway

        Hey, I’m not saying Branagh wasn’t great. It’s just that ever since I found out Grant was originally supposed to do it, I thought it would’ve been PERFECT. Oh well.

      • paige

        when i first read Chamber of Secrets before the movie came out, i only imagined Branagh as Lockhart. i feel like somewhere, someone was reading my mind and casted him. unfortunately, Branagh never thanked me lol

      • Mr. Holloway


        See, I was the opposite. I never would’ve imagined the super Shakespearean Branagh as Lockhart, and I pictured someone like Grant, but obviously Branagh turned out really well.

        I agree that he owes you a thank you note.

      • GS

        I didn’t like him as Lockhart. Hugh Grant would have been much more like the character described in the book.

  • Meredith

    My very favorite scene in CoS is the dueling club. First of all, Kenneth Branagh is hilarious. Any scene with him is just great. But my favorite part is when Draco asks Harry, “Scared, Potter?” and Harry says, “You wish.” It’s a chills and high fives moment.

    • chocolateislove

      Yes, I love this scene too! Kenneth Branagh was just perfect in that role!

    • Mark

      Branagh, “Mr. Shakespeare” was perfect for this role. He was so delightfully full of himself and I can’t imagine anyone else in it.

  • ckdexter

    These posts are great! They will be a must read for me all week. Thanks, Mandi!

  • Kate

    I’m loving these posts – just started re-watching all the movies this weekend with my husband and it’s like, EW is reading my mind! I absolutely ball every time I watch Harris say “it’s not our abilities that define who we are, but our choices.”

    • Mr. Holloway

      I’m going to attempt to marathon the movies this week before “Deathly Hallows Part 1.”

      In a related story, I expect to get into several fights with my gf when she sensibly wants to go to bed at a decent hour this week, and I say something like “but there’s only an hour and a half left in ‘Chamber of Secrets.'”

      • Lisa Simpson

        They just showed 2-5 this weekend on ABC Family.

      • Leslie

        If she can’t survive a Harry Potter marathon pre- Deathly Hallows, then perhaps it’s a sign you should rethink that relationship.

  • caroline

    STOP THIS COUNTDOWN! I’m going to start bawling….

  • Liz

    I miss Richard Harris as Dumbledore :( The actor who took his place, whose name I can’t think of and don’t really feel like googling, has always seemed too harsh in the role and I’ve never really warmed up to him. Oh well.

    • Mr. Holloway

      I completely agree that Michael Gambon has taken some weird liberties with Dumbledore (particularly in “Goblet of Fire”).

      However, (and maybe I’m imagining this) I think Harris was looking pretty frail in certain parts of “Chamber of Secrets” (obviously, his health was failing him) and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the role had ultimately been re-cast given that Dumbledore somewhat springs into action in later books/movies.

    • Adam

      Hmm, I actually think Michael Gambon has been great in the role of Dumbledore. And I thought he was especially fantastic in Half-Blood Prince. I even think he was overlooked for awards recognition for his performance in Half-Blood Prince.

      • Shaun

        Gambon was finally less than cringe-inducing in the HBP movie. But then, in that book/movie Dumbledore’s weakened and dying. He’s not the same DD anymore, and Gambon’s far more gruff portrayal of the character generally works in that story.

        But then again, HBP was by far my least favorite movie of the series. It had a few good moments, but it had several ridiculous, drastic changes from the book and made no sense, plus the emphasis on teen lust – and the hideous Lavender Brown – made me want to puke.

    • M

      Agreed. Richard Harris was PERFECT as Dumbledore. Whenever I reread the books, I still hear his voice as Dumbledore. Not a fan of Michael Gambon’s portrayal.

    • Lisa Simpson

      I love Richard Harris’s performance, but I also love Michael Gambon’s. They are different takes on the character, and I think it’s interesting that Gambon didn’t fel the need to mimic Harris’s performance. My favorite scene with Harris is when he eats the earwax bean, while my fave of Gambon’s is when he exits the hospital room to encounter the time traveling Harry and Hermione.

      • Mr. Holloway

        That is EXACTLY my favorite Gambon/Dumbledore moment…just casually humming to himself. (“It worked!” “What worked?”) Perfectly captured the mischevious side of Dumbledore.

      • Mr. Holloway

        (Self correction: Harry actually says “We did it!”, and Dumbledore responds “Did what?”

        Figured I’d correct myself before a crazy HP fan rightfully put me in my place.)

      • KarlHall

        Exactly, Lisa (LOL!) Both of them had different takes on the same character. Harris was more grandfatherly, which was good given the nature of the first 2 books. But starting from GOF onwards, when Dumbledore starts to get pro-active in the fight, with harsh looks on his face while interrogating Barty Crouch Jr., defying Umbridge, taking on Voldemort and the Inferi…

        you knew Harris wasn’t going to be able to pull off those action scenes. Michael Gambon was a fine recast.

    • K

      Richard Harris was great, but I always thought he made Dumbledore a little too grandfathery. He is supposed to but kind of quirky and I think Michael Gambon plays that well.

      • Shaun

        See and I can’t stand Gambon’s performances. It’s been frequently reported Gambon didn’t bother to read the books after accepting the role, but I can only guess he didn’t watch the first two movies either. Harris was perfect as DD. The twinkle in the eye, the gentle yet mischeivious nature. All of it. Gambon plays it much too blustery and gruff. No gentility, no subtlety. The differences between Harris and Gambon are jarring.

        Even now, almost a decade later, I have to wonder… Did anyone even ASK Ian McKellan if he was interested in the part? Another good choice would’ve been Christopher Plummer, who seemed very Dumbledore-ish in that Dr. Parnassus movie last year.

      • Arizona

        I’m sorry, neither one of them is Dumbledore the way *I* pictured him. But now I’m going to picture Dumbledore as Gandalf, thanks a lot. : )

  • a person

    I can’t decide what my favorite scene in Chamber of Secrets is because it is my favorite of the Harry Potter movies, though i do wish they would have added the death day party! (only part that was really missing!) and had Hugh Grant (my favorite actor) as Lockhart, but Branagh did a great job anyways! Lockhart will always be my favorite of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers!

    • KarlHall

      Hahaha he’s your favorite? We should really rank DADA teachers. Mine would have to be Lupin, followed by fake Moody, then Umbridge, cos she was so deliciously evil.

      “Progess for progress’ sakes cannot be accepted!”

  • Mary

    I wish people werent so hard on Chris Columbus’s direction of the first two films. They’re still a whole lot better adaptations in my mind than the train wreck David Yates created with “The Half Blood Prince”.

    • Mr. Holloway

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I’ve criticized Columbus in the past is because he seems almost allergic to taking any sort of artistic chances. Of course, that actually serves him really well for the large segment of HP fans who’d be perfectly content with sitting through five-hour movies as long as EVERYTHING from the book was in it.

      That being said, Columbus still deserves a tremendous amount of credit for establishing a strong foundation with the first two HP movies, especially in regards to the way he balanced working with inexperienced kids and some of the finest British actors on the planet on a MASSIVE production and making it work.

      • Lisa Simpson

        I agree that Columbus deserves a lot of credit for getting the franchise off the gorund so strongly, and I also agree that he never took any artistic chances with the movies. The movies really didn’t take flight as works of art (rather than adaptation) until Cuaron came along. And I’ve loved what Yates has done. Movie and books are two different types of storytelling methods, and the later directors understood that better than Columbus.

      • Jack

        It’s a bit pretentious to think that all movies need to be “works of art.” Some are just entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Dave

      Half Blood Prince is actually one of my favorite Potter films (along with Prisoner of Azkaban). Sure, artistic liberties were taken going from book to film (one scene that particularly bothered me), but it really was a gorgeous film. So exquisitely shot, the acting was great, the emotion and tension were palpable. The differences from the book didn’t end up bothering me because I was so enthralled with what was onscreen.

      • paula

        Yeah, but the problem with Half Blood Prince was that they change the end. Dumblendore’s funeral was such a beutiful way of ending the sixth book and it would have made a perfect way of ending the movie. Also, movie Ginny is terrible in the sixth film.

      • KarlHall

        Ummm… they showed Dumbledore’s funeral ending the movie too, didn’t it? Followed by a brief scene talking about the fake locket and R.A.B…

      • Leslie

        I think Yates has done an admirable job for the most part in adapting rather complex source material, but I didn’t really care for some of the liberties he took in HBP. I’m fine with changing the story to make it more adaptable to the screen, especially as the books got bigger & it would have been impossible to have the story make sense if you stuck strictly to the book & didn’t make the movies 5 hours long. However, I wish that some things, like Ginny & Harry’s first kiss (& Ginny’s character in general), & the funeral at the end, had not been changed or cut short.

      • Dave

        I guess I was just fine with the liberties taken in Half Blood Prince since they all, at least for me, worked in the context of the film. If you look at Half Blood Prince and completely separate it from the book, it’s near perfect, which can’t be said for all of the Potter films. I’m not saying it should be COMPLETELY separated from the book. I guess I’m just trying to say how much I love that movie lol.

      • Kinglsey Shacklebolt

        I really liked that Columbus was so faithful to the first two books in his films… If only the later films had been as faithful!

        Columbus certainly isn’t as gifted a director as Cuaron, but he brought Harry, Hogwarts, and the rest to life on the big screen. The first two books are (mostly) lighter in tone and his colorful, (mostly) whimsical films capture that.

        I think POA is, overall, the best film in the series, but it’s also where important scenes and bits of info started getting cut out of the films (not to mention Gambon’s disappointing performances). I mostly liked GOF, though it has its flaws (including no house elves). The action, and Moody, makes up for the problems.

        I’ve really been unhappy with the last two movies though. OOP, while the longest book, became the shortest movie. Some good moments were cut, and Grawp just looked ridiculous. I couldn’t take the movie seriously once Grawp was shown.

        HBP changed the opening, where the Durselys finally got what was coming to them, and replaced it with Harry flirting with a waitress? WTF? Again no house elves, WAY to much Lavender Brown, Harry just standing there to watch Dumbledore die (in the book, he was petrified under his cloak), and then no funeral.

        I can only hope Yates and the screenwriters will do a better job with the final two parts of the series.

    • Melissa

      I loved the first two movie because they followed the books so closely. The books were not very long, so it made sense to include a lot of the source content.

      Columbus did an excellent job setting up the series. Without him the later movies would not have been as successful.

      • Liz

        I agree, the first two were the best movies, because they did follow the books more closely. Leaving out who the Map came from in POA was really poor editing. I find I don’t mind leaving out things from the books as upsetting as changing them totally. As for casting, it’s always been spot on in my opinion. Alan Rickman may too old to play Snape, but he does it with such style, you forgive him.

    • Kinglsey Shacklebolt

      Total agreement, Mary. Not sure how much of it the blame goes to Yates and how much of it to the writers, but I find the first two movies of the series much, much more enjoyable than the last two. And, I should note, that I enjoyed each new book more and more as the series progressed.

      Wouldn’t it have been cool if each movie had gotten a LOTR-style, extended, special edition DVD? The casting for the films (except Gambon) was spot-on perfect. If only WB had taken the films to their fullest potential.

      • Kinglsey Shacklebolt

        My comments above were meant to go under Mary’s comments higher up… Not sure what happened there!

    • Kinglsey Shacklebolt

      Total agreement, Mary. Not sure how much of it the blame goes to Yates and how much of it to the writers, but I find the first two movies of the series much, much more enjoyable than the last two. And, I should note, that I enjoyed each new book more and more as the series progressed.

      Wouldn’t it have been cool if each movie had gotten a LOTR-style, extended, special edition DVD? The casting for the films (except Gambon) was spot-on perfect. If only WB had taken the films to their fullest potential.

  • Laura W

    I like the chamber of secrets book but the movie bit of draw but still it was a faithful adaption. I really need to buy all of the first movies because I only have the sixth one. I went through a phase of liking anything that wasn’t Harry Potter then I fell in love with it again when the sixth one came out!! Bring on 7 part 1!!

  • Rio

    My fave scene is when Lockhart teaches his first DatD class and walks down the staircase. He grins at the painting of himself, painting himself, and both Lockharts in the painting mug back for him, obviously aware of how beautiful they are. It’s hysterical!

  • Beth

    The dueling scene with Alan Rickman and Kenneth Branagh is great. And my favorite line from the book, while changed a little in the film, is still “It is our choices, Harry, that make us who we are, far more than our achievements.” Great dialogue!

    And while I don’t think that Columbus is a great director (and I do think that parts of the first two films will that out), I can tell he was picked to guide the three young stars through the pressure of headlining a huge movie, and I think in that aspect he deserves a great deal of admiration and credit for being part of what made Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson the grounded, normal adults they are today.

  • Kiki

    I love all things Harry Potter, and maybe the first two films were as good as they could be given the strict dedication to the source material and the young ages of the stars, but I will always think they are the weakest films of the bunch. They just didn’t have the vision or depth of the later movies. My favorite movie is 3…every detail is perfect.

    • Adam

      I think I have to agree. I like the first two films, but from #3 and onward, the films became more mature (probably because the books became more mature as well). Maybe it’s just that I really started to love the series starting with book #3 and onward, so I inherently like those movies more. And as much as I admire Chris Columbus for first bringing the series to screen, which couldn’t have been easy, and for helping to guide the three young stars, I still don’t think he is a top-notch director. And that only became more evident to me when viewing the later films. And as someone else pointed out, Columbus almost seemed incapable of taking any artistic liberties with his films. Maybe he was fearful of fans bemoaning any changes from the books (which, let’s face it, some of the fans definitely do complain when the films don’t adhere strictly to the books). Still, Columbus did an admirable job.

  • Lisa Simpson

    My favorite scene from Chamber of Secrets is when they meet Moaning Myrtle. My least favorite is the Aragog sequence, but mainly because I’ve never been able to watch it. It sounds good, though.

    I agree that Columbus was great in getting the series off the ground, and with the pitch-perfect casting, but his directing is too literal and earth-bound, which makes his movies the most prosaic of the bunch.

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