November 16, 2002 
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Daniel Radcliffe
Harry Potter's back and he wants to rule the world!
He starts off with endorsing brands in The Chamber Of Secrets

Jeet Thayil

Talk about synergy! Talk about wizardry! And look out for product placements. Harry Potter flies a Nimbus 2000 broomstick. He endorses Coca Cola.

AOL Time Warner, the largest media conglomerate in the world, is using its latest cinematic blockbuster to engineer a blitz of marketing tie-ins, from TV commercials and magazine covers (specifically on Time, which is part of the company's monolithic family), to web sites.

You will see Harry on AOL, if you are a subscriber, and on buses and subways, not to mention on sister companies. AOL is promoting the movie heavily within its own enormous home ground. For instance, AOL and Warner Brothers both had 30-second trailers fans could download. The WB network broadcast one of the very first Harry Potter trailers. AOL Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Kids WB held sweepstakes connected to the movie. Warner's Atlantic Records is releasing the film's soundtracks. And Warner's cable channel HBO will screen the previous Harry Potter film.

At a climactic moment in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Daniel Radcliffe, playing the resourceful Mr Potter (as he is called for much of the movie), whips out a wand and lays waste to the evil hordes that would overpower him and the good fellows of Hogwarts school. I wondered why the scene looked so familiar and then it struck me: Star Wars.

Much in the way the protagonists of George Lucas's long-running franchise use light sabers in battle, Harry and his best friends, Ron Weasley (who has the unlikely real name of Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), use wands. Instead of cloaks the Hogwarts heroes have blazers that look like wizards' robes. And just as Luke Skywalker's filial connection with the Dark Side gave Star Wars an added punch, strange mysteries are afoot at Hogwarts too. Harry may be a descendant of the malevolent Sazarin Slitherin a co-founder of Hogwarts. Even the Quidditch game will recall Star Wars chase sequences more than anything else.

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Most worrying of all, Harry may even be connected to a series of events at the school: a pet cat has been hanged, messages in blood are discovered on deserted hallways and students have been discovered petrified, that is turned into stone. The question is: Could Harry Potter be responsible for these dark doings? Further: Why does Harry speak Parselmouth, the language of the serpent and basilisk?

Chris Columbus and AOL Time Warner, the makers of Harry Potter, may understandably want to position the movie as a PG-13 product, like Star Wars and the other expected blockbuster sequel this season, The Lord Of The Rings. But Harry Potter's constituency consists mostly of ten-year-old pedants and, as everybody knows, they are notorious sticklers for bookish detail.

A still from Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets For this reason, the movie deviates very little from JK Rowlings's second installment in the Potter saga. The two hour 41 minute film includes practically every segment described in the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For the next installment, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, word is that the franchise has roped in Alfonso Cuaron as director. Cuaron is best known as the maker of the deliciously racy sex farce Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too).

There is much about Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets that is thrilling to watch, however old you may be. There is a tremendous sequence in which the young wizards are taught how to pick digital mandrake plants. The legend is that mandrakes, or mandragoras, grow where men are hanged. As the mandrake is pulled out of the earth, it makes a shrieking sound. This is the sound of the hanged man's soul. In Harry Potter, that very adult myth is given visual heft. It is wonderfully entertaining.

Kenneth Branagh as the vainglorious Gilderoy Lockhart is perfectly cast. He plays a man who loves nothing as much as his own face. He is a braggart and hail-fellow-well-met of the first order. He gets his comeuppance of course but not before causing plenty of diversion.

A sequence with a flying car that turns invisible to keep unsuspecting Muggles (humans) out of the loop is wonderful to watch. The adults in the theater seemed quite as thrilled as younger viewers. In fact, the digital wizardry in the The Chamber of Secrets is far superior to the first film. This is particularly so when the self-castigating elf Dobby comes into the picture. He routinely upstages his master, the evil-oozing Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs), father of Harry's Hogwarts nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets

The adult aspects of this movie, namely the violence and a sort of politically correct appraisal of racism, are likely the least successful. Hermione is criticised for being a Mudblood, that is she is not a full-blooded wizard, one of her parents was a Muggle. The Malfoys, who with their Teutonic blondness resemble nobody as much as the Elven people of the Lord Of The Rings, are cast as neo-Nazi Aryan evangelists. It is too much of a leap. And Hermione, with her upper class English manner, seems ill-suited for the role.

The violence is plentiful and sometimes fairly disturbing. But Harry, who this time around resembles a noir teenage detective more than a boy wonder, is equal to the task. Between the first picture and this one, Harry's voice has broken. He seems to have arrived at puberty with his boyish charms intact. Rather than losing old fans the new Harry Potter should win new ones.

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