Weekend Movies: Potter Mania Returns
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – One year older, one year wiser, British boy wizard Harry Potter whizzed back into movie theaters on Friday to see if he can stir the same box office magic that made last year’s film the No. 2 grossing movie of all time next to “Titanic.”
Only action hero Steven Seagal’s “Half Past Dead” is brave or dumb enough to go up against mighty “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” but Seagal’s new jail house flick looks like old hat compared to the bag of special effects tricks in “Potter.”
Early on Friday, kids were skipping classes — with their parents approval, of course — donning capes, brandishing wands and topping off their costumes with a sorcerer’s pointed hat to catch the first Potter screenings in theaters nationwide.
Online ticket seller Fandango.com reported Potter tickets comprised 96 percent of their total sales Thursday and Friday.
“It looks as good or better than last year for ‘Harry Potter,”‘ said Fandango.com Chief Executive Art Levitt. “We’re seeing a lot of sold out conditions, early on.”
Last year’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” debuted in U.S. and Canadian theaters to a whopping $90.3 million box office in its first weekend and another $23.7 million in the U.K. where it was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”
This new version, based on the second book in the best-selling series from British author J.K. Rowling, is darker than the first with more sinister evil afoot at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry (Daniel Radcliff), and friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) take their lessons in magic.
But Radcliffe, for one, likes the newer movie’s tone.
“Everybody has a dark side, really,” he told reporters at a recent gathering. “I think it was great to show Harry’s dark side, show that he’s not flawless, not a perfect person.
“Chamber of Secrets” also clips along at a faster pace than “Sorcerer’s Stone” without much of the character and scene explanation necessary to the first.
“I tried to make a 2-1/2 hour movie feel about 30 minutes long,” director Chris Columbus told Reuters.
MORE EVIL AFOOT
In the new movie, Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year of school only to find that a hidden “chamber of secrets” has been opened and a serpent unleashed that threatens to kill all wizards-in-waiting who aren’t of pure wizard blood.
If the serpent is not killed and the chamber closed for good, Hogwarts will cease to exist, and it is up to Harry and his friends to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Potter fans will see the return of favorite characters like Hagrid and Professors Dumbledore — played by the late Richard Harris, who died last month — McGonagall and Snape, along with additions such as the mysterious elf, Dobby, and the foppish Professor Gilderoy Lockhart.
Dark moments come when Harry and Ron are chased from a spider’s lair by hundreds of the creepy eight-legged creatures, and younger kids may find the serpent who swims through Hogwarts sewer pipes too menacing with his sharp fangs.
But in early screenings in Los Angeles, Harry’s legions of young fans seem to be pleased.
Adult critics seem mixed, however, with the Los Angeles Times thinking it was too dark, but the New York Times gives it a passing grade and said it is a little better than the first.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is rated PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language.
Meanwhile, “Half Past Dead” looks to field more of the same gun-blasting and punch-throwing that made Seagal a star in 1990s flicks like “Under Siege. Trouble is, the 90s are over.
The 51 year-old action hero portrays a car thief named Sascha who, with his buddy Nick (rap star Ja Rule), is tossed into a “new” Alcatraz just when a corrupt prison cop (Morris Chestnut) stages a “break-in” to coerce a death row inmate into telling him where $200 million in gold is hidden.
Together, the prisoners must overcome the corrections official and restore justice to civilized society — all from inside a jail.
“Half Past Dead” is rated PG-13 for pervasive action violence, language and some sexual content.
Weekend Movies: Potter Mania Returns