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In this essay, I choose the movie “Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets” as the object, aim to discover its critical and commercial values in the popular culture industry; but more importantly, I will try to analyze key themes and approaches the movie tends to deliver, as well as discussing its strengths and shortages as an artifact from an audience’s perspective. Unlike written content, images have the power to dramatically depict the events and actors (Bleiker, 2015), which are more visualized. Movies, therefore, are more vivid and easier to be interpreted, since they would speak for themselves through actors, scenes, and music. The second installment of the Harry Potter movie series, “The Chamber of Secrets” continued from the preceding episode, illustrating the wizard boy’s second-year adventure in the magic world. This time, as the topic states, is about a myth in Hogwarts: there is a secret chamber built by Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts, who believed that only the wizards with “pure blood” were qualified to study at school, stocks a terrible monster. This monster will attack wizards who are “half-blood” or “muggle”, and only Slytherin’s heir can open the chamber of secrets. No one knows where the room is, but it shows that the door has been opened and victims in the school appear one after another. Who is the one who opens the chamber? And who is the heir to Slytherin? At the same time, Harry Potter found himself attracted by a sound that no one else could hear; he also accidentally found his capability in “parseltongue”, a snack language used by Slytherin and Dark Lord Voldemort, as well as a connection to Voldemort’s mind and feelings. All of these things make Harry confused and even more painful that he might be the heir and might become a dark magician. In the face of Harry’s confusion, Dumbledore replies, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choice”. Eventually, Harry uses his talents and courage to uncover the mystery of the chamber of secrets, saves his friends, and defeats the monster and Voldemort. The genres of the movie include fantasy, adventure, family and friends, and mystery. Besides the adventure and self-identification parts, hierarchy is one of the key themes in this movie, and this is the main approach I will discuss later, which can reflect the race problem in real society.

There is no doubt of the importance of the Harry Potter movie series. It is one of the most popular and successful movie franchises in history, ranking in second place surpassed only by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise. The worldwide box office of the series is over 7.7 billion dollars, while “The Chamber of Secrets” earns more than 879 million dollars. In the US and Canada, the film opened to an $88.4 million opening weekend at 3,682 cinemas, the third largest opening at the time, behind Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was also No. 1 at the box office for two non-consecutive weekends (Brandon. 2002). In the United Kingdom, the film broke all opening records that were previously held by Philosopher’s Stone. It made £18.9 million during its opening including previews and £10.9 million excluding previews (BBC News, 2007). It went on to make £54.8 million in the UK; at the time, the fifth biggest tally of all time in the region (BBC News, 2007). Moreover, the film was nominated for three BAFTA Awards: Best Production Design, Sound, and Achievement in Visual Effects. The film was nominated for two awards at the inaugural Visual Effects Society Awards in the categories of ‘Best Character Animation in a Live Action Motion Picture’ and ‘Best Compositing in a Motion Picture’ (Eric, 2003), and was also nominated for six Saturn Awards in 2003 and in 2004 for its DVD release (Todd, 2002).

As a mainstream popular cultural product, it is also widely debated in the academic literature. There are plenty of books and articles debating this movie (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) which is associated with various themes, such as heroism, narrating hope in children’s literature, and the philosophical discussion about the immortality of love and soul. Some scholars argue that the movie creates an ivory tower for children with unreal folk and fairy tales (Zipes, 2002; Whited, 2002), while some think it sends children a lot of moral messages about courage and friendship (Bridger, 2002; Anatol, 2003).

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Due to its influence and topicality, there are a large amount of critical and commercial reactions to this movie. On Rotten Tomatoes, one of the most famous review-aggregation websites for film and television in the USA, “The Chamber of Secrets” gets an approval rating of 82% based on 234 reviews, with an average rating of 7.21/10. A consensus critic on the website reads, “Though the new Harry Potter has its flaws, it is better, more exciting, as well as darker than its forerunner, and even as an adult you can find wondrous amazement in this movie” (Rotten Tomatoes, 2002). On Metacritic (also a review-aggregation website) the movie gets a score of 63 out of 100, based on 35 reviews, indicating generally favorable reviews. Audience from CinemaScore marked the film with an average grade of “A+” on an A+ to F scale. It is the highest-rated Harry Potter film on this website. The Guardian comments the movie that “the thrill ride is whizzing along very satisfactorily indeed” when Entertainment Weekly commended the movie for being better and darker than its predecessor; Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times praised The Chamber of Secrets as “a phenomenal film” with 4 out of 4 stars, especially the set design. Richard Roeper commended the director for being faithful to the original book by telling a fulfilled story “but also taking it into the cinematic era” (Roeper, 2002). Variety criticized that even though the plot was exciting and dramatic, the movie was excessively long, The New York Times commented, “not too disappointed but you may feel worn down rather than feeling stirred” (Roger, 2002).

When considering the commercial reaction, it is found that the byproduct of the Harry Potter series gained a huge amount of profits through collaboration programs, copyrights, and others. “Harry Potter” currently has thousands of franchise products such as publishing, movies, DVDs, videotapes, toys, stationery, videogames, and clothing, as well as themes parks and tourism in the UK. There has already been a giant industrial chain across multiple fields, driving the economy to reach more than 200 billion dollars. In this industrial chain, the income of derivative products accounts for 70% of the entailed amount. According to statistics, the first six DVD distribution and video rental incomes were about 3.9 billion dollars, and the TV broadcast revenue was approximately 1 billion dollars. The initial seven “Harry Potter” DVDs sold more than 60 million units in North America and were the best-selling DVD series in the 21st century (Jacobs, 2017). The “Harry Potter” video games, copyrighted by an American electronic art company, sold about 42 million sets of genuine games worldwide bringing 1.5 billion dollars in profits to the company. For companies that have obtained trademark registration rights from Times Warner, the cumulative revenue of only the byproduct has reached 7 billion dollars (Jacobs, 2017). It seems the Harry Potter series has built a both cultural and financial empire.

Looking back to the artifact itself, although the movie contains various themes, such as friendship, self-identify, and family relationships, the most vital theme to me is hierarchy, which appears as the division of groups in the wizard world based on the purity of blood in the film. In the Harry Potter movie series, the wizarding world holds a strong norm of purity of blood, which divides people into “pure blood”, “half-blood” and “muggle” three major groups. This division is the most obvious in “The Chamber of Secrets” installment. In this movie, “pure blood” is on the top of the pyramid, including the Malfoy family, Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter, and the Weasleys. When the “half-blood” includes plenty of students in the school, and the “muggle” group represented by Hermione and other victims, is in the lower position. When the pure blood faces the other group, there is always superiority and arrogance. For instance, in the book store, the old Malfoy insinuates the birth of Hermione (00:24:20), and later when two Quidditch teams meet in the courtyard the young Malfoy directly calls Hermione “filthy little mudblood” (00:45:05), which “a foul name for someone who’s muggle-born” (00:46:27) and “not a term one usually hears in civilized conversation” (00:46:37). And even though young Malfoy spoke the word that is full of stereotype and viciousness in the public, he did not get any punishment at all. This indicated such a solid norm and discrimination between groups in the film, and when reflected in real society, it’s not difficult to find out that the stereotypes and discrimination of race are so close to it. In current society, there is still a firm racial hierarchy that states the white in the top position covertly or distinctly, followed by chattel slavery (Tushnet, 1981) and the post-emancipation development of ‘Jim Crow’ laws (Woodward, 1989). Moreover, not only about discrimination, some “pure blood” even tend to kill other groups. Represented by Lord Voldemort and Salazer Slytherin, who built the chamber, and hoped to “open the chamber and unleash the horror within, and by so doing purge the school with all those who in Slytherin’s view, were unworthy to study magic” (00:56:36). Considering the Nazism in the WWII and White Supremacy in current society, I think the movie greatly insinuate the social problem and concerns. Furthermore, it seems even among the “pure-blood” group there is division. In the movie, the Malfoy family with wealth, power, and reputation always behaves superior to others, when facing the Weasleys, who live in straitened circumstances, the Malfoys laugh at their poverty rather than showing concern and kindness (00:24:59); when young Malfoy sees the senior student, he chooses to provoke (01:32:47); when they are faced with Harry Potter, who has enough power and reputation, but short in accompany, the Malfoys choose to crack him down rather than offering assistance (01:34:03). This matches a phenomenon in current society that some people in higher status with enormous wealth are lacking proper modesty and willing to help. Under the hierarchical system, phenomena such as bullets, ignorance, and discrimination happen all the time in every single corner; the movie may tend to use a dramatic manifestation and exaggerated consequences to remind the audience to realize such intangible effects. Besides the theme of hierarchy, other approaches to self-identify are also interesting. When Harry found he could speak the parseltongue and might be Slytherin’s heir, he started doubting himself and his destiny. However, at the end of the story, Harry Potter defeats the Basilisk (the monster) with the sword of Gryffindor, which illustrates that a sword will “only take a true Gryffindor to pull out of the hat” (02:34:23); similarly, Hagrid comforted Hermione that “they’ve yet to think of a spell that Hermione can’t do” after she was humiliated by Malfoy as ‘mud blood’ (00:47:04) and exclude the birth, there is no question that Hermione is the cleverest character in the movie (in my opinion). Over view the entire film, it delivers a clear message of the disadvantage of hierarchy, but also a significant message that the capability and willingness of people are more important than the purity of blood. One possible solution given by Dumbledore, although maybe too idealized, but still poetic: “It’s not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choices” (02:34:17).

To sum up, the movie has delivered a clear message about various situations of hierarchy, which may tend to remind the audience to constrain themselves when it reflects reality. It also delivers a message which encourages people to get rid of settled labels and make their own good choices. Along with the proper background music, this is the strength of the movie. On the other hand, when we look meticulously at the story, there is a lack of proper logic. For example, there is no clear story of what happened to Ginny when she got the notebook, and if this point can be discussed in more detail, it would be helpful to epitasis. 

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