By Jeff Jensen
Updated June 07, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

For fans of a certain bespectacled British boy wizard with the lightning-bolt scar and bookworm glasses, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets may be the least of the first four books in J.K. Rowling’s ongoing saga. Lacking the new-world wonder of the first (The Sorcerer’s Stone), the dark twists of the third (The Prisoner of Azkaban), and the epic grandeur of the fourth (The Goblet of Fire), the second Potter novel is, alas, just a jolly good yarn. Which is exactly why Chris Columbus finds it so magical. ”The first one was about introduction and discovery,” says the director, whose film version of Sorcerer’s Stone has grossed $966 million at box offices worldwide. ”This time, we jump right into the story. Chamber of Secrets has a lot more humor and 10 times as much action.”

Columbus is currently shooting Chamber at Leavesden Studios near London; he’s expected to finish in July for a Nov. 15 release. Once again, Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry, whose infamous past (his parents were killed by the vile Lord Voldemort) makes him a celebrity student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In Chamber, Harry returns to the enchanted institution for his second year after a miserable summer vacation with his wretched Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. Sophomore term is filled with more Quidditch (the rugby-on-broomsticks sport), more sage instruction from kindly Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris), and more detention-baiting high jinks with giant gamekeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and chums Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). And there is mystery: Someone is turning Harry’s classmates into statues. Is there a link between this rash of petrifaction and creepy alum Tom Riddle, who speaks to Harry via a talking diary? (Answer: No.) (Just kidding. Of course there is!)

As they did on Sorcerer’s Stone, Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves aren’t straying far from the original text. (A few passages, such as the encounter with giant spiders and the climax inside the Chamber of Secrets, have been tweaked to provide more thrills.) That’s goose-bump-inducing news for fans who can’t wait to see Harry and Ron fly to school in a supernaturally souped-up Ford Anglia. Yet such fidelity may again bring out the critics who wish the filmmakers weren’t so slavish. ”I’ve always felt that if you find a piece of material you love, you really shouldn’t change it,” counters Columbus. ”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.” In fact, Rowling has yet to visit the Chamber set, busy as she is writing the long-in-coming fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. To those who’ve been grousing about the delay, Columbus says: ”Get off her back! We’re talking about one of the greatest fictional series ever written. Only hacks make novels appear on a certain date.”

Upon completing Chamber, Columbus will take a break from helming the franchise; a director for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, scheduled to start filming at the beginning of 2003, could be announced within a few weeks. (Y Tu Mama Tambien’s Alfonso Cuaron is reportedly buzzing around the project.) Though Columbus will continue as producer, he plans on moving his wife, Monica, and their four young children back to the U.S. after helping the new director make the transition. ”I did both films for my kids,” says Columbus. ”But I leave the house at 6:30 a.m. and get home at 10 at night — I’d really like to have dinner with them again!”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 161 minutes
  • Chris Columbus