The best-known wizard since Merlin is back on screen in an adventure sequel adapted from the internationally popular novel, Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets by English author J.K. Rowling.
A year ago, the first Harry Potter film (Sorcerer's Stone in the United States, Philsopher's Stone in many other countries) broke all sorts of box office records. Now the young wizard-in-training is a "second year" at Hogwart's School of Magic.
Along with new spells to study and new sports action on the "quiddich" field, there's a new mystery that Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron must solve to save the school...and their lives.
Parents of young children should be aware that Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets is darker and more intense than the first film; but director Chris Columbus says it remains true to the spirit of the J.K. Rowling novel.
"Because this book worked on a literary level, we needed to make some of the sequences a little bigger than they were in the book," explains Columbus," particularly the spider sequence and the final sequence in the chamber. It was just something we needed to do cinematically. I think we need to take the audience this time to a different place: much more exciting, much more intense."
Daniel Radcliffe, who again plays Harry Potter, welcomes the chance to explore the character's struggle with evil; and he does not think the new film is too scary for anyone old enough to have read the book.
"I think everybody has a dark side. However, much you like to show it or you're afraid of showing it, I think everybody has it," says Radcliffe, "so I think it was great to be able to show Harry's dark side. It was great to be able to show that he's not flawless [or] the perfect person. It's all in the book and if you take away the darkness from the film, then you haven't done the film justice. If they've read the book, then I don't think they'll be scared at all."
Jason Isaacs joins the company as the menacing father of Harry's classroom nemesis Malfoy. Isaacs believes Harry Potter continues a long tradition of scary tales that young people love.
"Kids can take things. Everybody is very delicate what you can tell children, but look at Grimm's Fairy Tales. There's a wolf that eats your grandmother and sits in bed; there's witches that poison you and lock you up," says Isaacs, "there are people that burst in and try to kill you. All children's stories are riven with inbelievably dark imagery. In the first Harry Potter, his parents are murdered and he lives with these abusive relatives who lock him under the stairs. I think back to what terrified me as a child and then I see three-year-olds watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the afternoon, with people getting stakes driven through their hearts and decapitated; I don't think you can go dark enough for children. I think they're more resilient than we think and their nightmares take them further than we could ever take them."
Kenneth Branagh introduces the very theatrical Gilderoy Lockhart, professor of the dark arts at Hogwarts. Returning cast members include Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and the late Richard Harris. Rupert Grint is back as young Ron Weasley and Emma Watson returns as Hermione Granger.
"It's kind of like we're growing up with the books," says Watson. "We're the same age as them so we're growing up with them."