RE­PEAT­ING THE TRICK

The first film had bro­ken records, so big things were ex­pected of Chris Colum­bus’ sec­ond Pot­ter film. The pres­sure was on, as Em­pire dis­cov­ered when we vis­ited the set in 2002

Empire (UK) - - HARRY POTTER: AN EMPIRE HISTORY - WORDS CHRIS HE­WITT

CHRIS COLUM­BUS COULD teach any­one a thing or two about deal­ing with pres­sure. As di­rec­tor of Harry Pot­ter And The Cham­ber Of Se­crets, the se­quel to last year’s spe­cial ef­fects-filled spec­tac­u­lar Harry Pot­ter And The Philoso­pher’s Stone, the Amer­i­can film­maker is wellac­quainted with the kind of crush­ing ex­pec­ta­tions that can of­ten end with a crowd of grave­side mourn­ers say­ing things like, “But he was so young.” Don’t scoff. Colum­bus has the weight of the Warner Bros. world on his shoul­ders. Namely, he’s set with the task of tak­ing po­ten­tially the big­gest fran­chise of all time for­ward ar­tis­ti­cally, with­out screw­ing those bil­lion-dol­lar re­turns. Now, that’s pres­sure. Ex­cept, right here, right now, just out­side Watford at Leaves­den Stu­dios, the home for over 90 per cent of the Cham­ber Of Se­crets shoot and where Em­pire is cur­rently watch­ing the fin­ish­ing touches be­ing put to the $100 mil­lion mega block­buster, Colum­bus is re­laxed and breezy, the only clue to pos­si­ble stress a bot­tle of water which he fid­dles with through­out. We don’t think it con­tains any­thing stronger.

“We’re on day 150 right now. We’ve al­most com­pleted prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy,” he smiles, wist­fully. “I have no hol­i­day. I fin­ish shoot­ing on Fri­day and on Tues­day we start do­ing pick-up shots, and I have to have the film com­pleted in about ten weeks. There could be a hol­i­day some­day.”

“Some­day” is coming soon, for Colum­bus will hand over the reins for the third in­stal­ment to Mex­i­can di­rec­tor Al­fonso Cuarón (A Lit­tle Princess and — bizarrely — sex com­edy Y Tu Mamá Tam­bién), for shoot­ing to be­gin next year for a 2004 re­lease. “It’s re­ally very sim­ple,” ex­plains Colum­bus, who’s been based here since 2000. “I haven’t seen my own chil­dren for two years for din­ner, and I just didn’t want to miss them grow­ing up. It was re­ally an easy call.”

Yet you sense that de­spite this, Colum­bus’ en­thu­si­asm has barely di­min­ished. Ev­ery­where Em­pire goes to­day, there’s a pal­pa­ble feel­ing from cast and crew alike that this in­stal­ment of J.K. Rowl­ing’s boy-wiz­ard saga — this time a 12-year-old Harry (Daniel Rad­cliffe) be­comes the chief sus­pect in a se­ries of shock­ing at­tacks on fel­low pupils, all of which are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the mys­te­ri­ous tit­u­lar cham­ber — can sur­pass the orig­i­nal: from the Great Hall of Hog­warts School Of Witch­craft And Wiz­ardry, to the mo­men­tous and stun­ning Cham­ber Of Se­crets it­self, a murky, op­pres­sive sewer set dom­i­nated by a mas­sive stone statue of the head of Hog­warts’ most in­fa­mous founder, Salazar Slytherin, the sense of con­fi­dence is rife. “I’m very proud of the first film, but I think the sec­ond will be fun­nier,” says pro­ducer David Hey­man, a well-spo­ken English­man who, like the first gold prospec­tors, first took the Pot­ter books to Warn­ers and has nur­tured the films ever since. “I think it’s more of an ad­ven­ture. More ac­tion, more com­edy.”

Not that Pot­ter’s re­port card is full of, “Must do bet­ters.” Af­ter all, Philoso­pher’s Stone is the sec­ond-most suc­cess­ful film of all time, sec­ond only to James Cameron’s Ti­tanic. Fac­tor in mer­chan­dise sold, and we’re look­ing at Bill Gates-type num­bers. So in the his­tory of sure things, Harry Pot­ter And The Cham­ber Of Se­crets is up there with Tim Hen­man los­ing in the Wim­ble­don semis, or the US sell­ing arms to one of its en­e­mies. It sim­ply can’t fail... But even so, Harry might just ex­pe­ri­ence some grow­ing pains this time around.

Flash back to last Oc­to­ber, as the ‘movie event of the year’ hype

kicked up a notch (al­though to be ac­cu­rate, Pot­ter­ma­nia be­gan with the fourth book, Goblet Of Fire). Sud­denly, the lit­tle be­spec­ta­cled bug­ger was ev­ery­where, on mag­a­zines like The Face that pre­vi­ously would have baulked at plop­ping a lit­tle kid on its cover, on TV shows, toy shelves, bed­spreads — ev­ery­where. And the hype clearly worked: Philoso­pher’s Stone opened to a then-record $93 mil­lion in the US (beaten since by only Spi­der-man which, iron­i­cally, Colum­bus was at­tached to be­fore sign­ing for Pot­ter), be­fore post­ing equally im­pres­sive fi­nal grosses and a mile­stone-set­ting bow on video and DVD. And now, buck­ing the usual trend with se­quels, the whole three-ring cir­cus is back in town just a year later (film­ing on Cham­ber Of Se­crets be­gan three days af­ter Philoso­pher’s Stone was re­leased. You can see what Colum­bus means about hol­i­days). It’s not a sur­prise; in or­der to use the youth­ful cast — Rad­cliffe, Emma Wat­son, Ru­pert Grint et al — for as long as is Mug­gle-y pos­si­ble, the plan is to re­lease a Pot­ter film ev­ery 12 to 18 months un­til the seven-movie saga is com­plete. Which could be around 2009. It would ac­tu­ally be amaz­ing if au­di­ences didn’t suf­fer Pot­ter burnout at some point.

And in a way, it’s al­most like Warn­ers has seen that back­lash coming. Re­al­is­ing that if you don’t like Harry Pot­ter now, chances are you never will, the Cham­ber Of Se­crets mar­ket­ing has been de­lib­er­ately aimed at fans, in­clud­ing the teaser poster de­pict­ing CG char­ac­ter Dobby, a house-elf who tries to help Harry in his fight: surely a case of preach­ing to the con­verted?

“Listen, I just think about mak­ing the best film pos­si­ble,” coun­ters Colum­bus. “You want the au­di­ence to en­joy the film, but I hon­estly think that if you know noth­ing about Harry Pot­ter and you walk into the sec­ond film, you can have a more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Per­haps — but this tac­tic isn’t go­ing to win back those who thought the first movie was over­long and too bound by the book to be truly mag­i­cal; and which was blown away in the ku­dos stakes and —cru­cially — awards cat­e­gories by The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring, which de­buted a month later. The fran­chises will do bat­tle again this Christ­mas: The Two Tow­ers ver­sus Cham­ber Of Se­crets.

“I loved Lord Of The Rings,” says Hey­man, a lit­tle testily. “I thought it was a fan­tas­tic film, but we can’t com­pare the two.”

For all the signs are that, if you didn’t think Philoso­pher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s, if you’re a damn fool Amer­i­can) was the bees patel­las, then Cham­ber Of Se­crets will be a vast im­prove­ment. And if you thought part one was mag­nifico, then you’ll be in Hog­warts heaven.

“It’s the most cin­e­matic [book] be­cause it’s got a lot of ac­tion and a lot of hu­mour, and it’s just a more fun ex­pe­ri­ence this time,” says Colum­bus. “The cam­era moves a lot more. It’s changed my style as a film­maker.”

Al­ready, the teaser trailer has hinted that, de­spite that in­sane pro­duc­tion sched­ule, the much-crit­i­cised ef­fects are go­ing to im­prove. If you winced at the orig­i­nal’s overly pix­e­lated, CG stunt dou­ble-dom­i­nated Quid­ditch, then re­joice, for ILM is in town.

“I al­ways thought Quid­ditch could be taken a step fur­ther, faster, a lit­tle more vi­o­lent than it was, that the char­ac­ters could’ve blended in with the back­grounds a lit­tle more. We ran out of time,” ad­mits Colum­bus, who shot this movie’s Quid­ditch se­quences at the begin­ning. “We’re get­ting some amaz­ing, amaz­ing footage. Vis­ual ef­fects are only as good as the time you give them, and as a re­sult of hav­ing more time we have bet­ter vis­ual ef­fects.” An­other trump card is the elim­i­na­tion of the hour of set-up, which at times re­duced the first film to walk­ing pace — plus, in keep­ing with the nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of the books, Se­crets will be darker. It’s this black fault line through the se­ries which could sep­a­rate the diehards from the daytrip­pers.

“We’re not hold­ing back,” con­firms Colum­bus. “Jo Rowl­ing doesn’t pull any punches in the books, and I feel it’d be un­fair to do that.”

Ah, the books. With Goblet Of Fire set to hit cinemas in 2005 or 2006, there’s no im­me­di­ate panic — but the plain truth of the mat­ter is that there’s still no sign of the fifth book in the se­ries, the pro­vi­sion­ally ti­tled Harry Pot­ter And The Or­der Of Phoenix. Ini­tially sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion this summer, it’s now look­ing like some­time next year. At the ear­li­est. Pre­vi­ously, Rowl­ing has churned the books out at a pace of one a year, but if this present course is main­tained, the sev­enth film may well pre­cede the book — forc­ing screen­writer Steven Kloves to aban­don his cur­rent adap­ta­tion du­ties. Of course, if Phoenix

— ru­moured to fea­ture the death of a ma­jor char­ac­ter — is a work of ge­nius, then all will be for­given. And Hey­man, for one, thinks Rowl­ing has earned a break.

“This woman de­liv­ered four books in four years, and they were fan­tas­tic books. Now she’s tak­ing time to write the book that she wants to write. Why does ev­ery­body try to judge it [like] she’s hav­ing writer’s block?” And when it comes, its length — ru­moured to be around 300 pages — will be greatly scru­ti­nised. The first film, based on a 220-page book, clocked

“I AL­WAYS THOUGHT QUID­DITCH COULD BE TAKEN A STEP FUR­THER, FASTER, A LIT­TLE MORE VI­O­LENT THAN IT WAS.” CHRIS COLUM­BUS

in at well over two hours — al­most un­prece­dented for a kid­dies’ movie. Cur­rently Cham­ber Of Se­crets’ run­ning time is said to be, again, around the 150-minute mark, an­other legacy of the film­mak­ers’ dogged ded­i­ca­tion to Rowl­ing’s source text.

“I al­ways think the adults are a lit­tle more sniffy about that sort of thing,” coun­ters Colum­bus. “The kids don’t re­ally care. Most of the kids I talked to said the movie was too short.”

Still, it’s fair to say that, in do­ing so, Colum­bus and co have made a rod for their own backs: at this rate, the 600-plus-page Goblet Of Fire could clock in at around seven hours — more than enough to se­verely test the new and im­proved blad­der con­trol of fiveto 12-year-old kids ev­ery­where.

But that’s for an­other day. Now, Cham­ber Of Se­crets is look­ing pretty good. Even if the law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns kicks in (se­quels usu­ally make around 60 to 70 per cent of the orig­i­nal’s gross), that means a prob­a­ble take of around $700-800 mil­lion world­wide. More than enough money to keep Warner Bros. in the wiz­ard busi­ness for some time to come.

“‘Harry Pot­ter 3’ will be re­leased in two years’ time,” con­firms Hey­man. “I can­not think about ‘Harry Pot­ter 4’. Let’s see how ‘Harry Pot­ter 2’ goes. I think it’s go­ing to be a re­ally ex­cit­ing time in the Harry Pot­ter fran­chise. I think we’re go­ing into some re­ally in­ter­est­ing ar­eas.”

In­deed. And the ap­point­ment of Cuarón for the next movie is an en­cour­ag­ing sign that Warn­ers is aware that the Pot­ter films aren’t like Big Macs — each ex­pe­ri­ence will need to be dif­fer­ent from the last. The mes­sage is clear: evolve, or risk ‘Harry Pot­ter And The Au­di­ence Of Ap­a­thy’. The bat­tle for Pot­ter’s fu­ture has be­gun.

THE HARRY POT­TER 8-FILM COL­LEC­TION IS AVAIL­ABLE NOW ON 4K, BLU-RAY AND DVD

Far left: Harry with David Bradley’s Ar­gus Filch. Left: Ron, Harry and Hed­wig take a hair- and feath­er­rais­ing trip in the fly­ing car. Be­low: Hermione con­cocts form-shift­ing Polyjuice Po­tion.

Above: Dobby the house-elf (voiced by Toby Jones) works his magic. Left: Draco and Harry en­gage in a testy game of Quid­ditch.

Top: Pro­fes­sor Lock­hart (Ken­neth Branagh) takes Harry and Ron’s point. Mid­dle: Harry Pot­ter in the Cham­ber Of Se­crets. Bot­tom: Mcg­o­na­gall, Dum­ble­dore and Snape are joined by Sprout (Miriam Mar­golyes, sec­ond left).

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