It may seem strange to say this in 2016, but there was a time when movie franchises based on books were far from the norm. Star Wars and Star Trek were revolutionary for the sci-fi genre, but these were projects straight from the mind of the film writers. The late 70s and early 80s saw comic book adaptation for the big screen, with Christopher Reeves’ Superman films at the forefront. Batman was adapted in the early 90s and featured three different actors (Michael Keaton, Van Kilmer and George Clooney) portraying the hero. In the late 90s and early 2000s, we saw the birth of Marvel on the big screen, with the Blade trilogy featuring Wesley Snipes. Slowly but surely, movie studios were learning the benefits of adapting books – the built in audience. The success of these films, in my humble opinion, lead directly to two of the most successful movie franchises – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
Both of these franchises launched in 2001, but the impact of Harry Potter is still visible today and will likely be so for quite some time. Even though we got a prequel trilogy for LOTR with The Hobbit, that source material already existed. For years, Warner Bros has been asking Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling to expand on her very lucrative franchise, and she answered with the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
Many franchises have tried to replicate the Harry Potter model, but only the Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games, were able to successfully pull it off. Percy Jackson and the Olympians were only able to release 2 – 5 possible films, whereas The Mortal Instruments was only able to release one before it got regulated to a TV show. Divergent was on the right track to complete it’s cinematic run, but it’s been reported that the last film will go straight to television. How did J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros keep viewers’ attention for all of those years? What made their young adult story stand out where other’s failed? Maybe it’s just the source material.
Rowling gave literary birth to Harry Potter in 1997 with the Philosopher’s Stone (called Sorcerer’s Stone in the US), and the run continued until 2007 with releases including Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. The first movie was released in 2001, shortly after the release of the fourth book and the franchise spawned eight movies over 10 years, becoming a crucial part of many childhoods.
In case you’re one of the few who haven’t been indoctrinated into the culture – The franchise followed the life of the titular hero, a young wizard accompanied by his two best friends, trying to stop the reign of a dark wizard, Voldemort. Based in the United Kingdom, the story follows the trio as they attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. It features many different subplots but most important is the fall, return and eventual demise of He Who Must Not Be Named, Voldemort. This is one of the few franchises where you can grasp the story without reading the books, but the books do manage to paint a more in depth picture that would take hours of film to truly flesh out.
How does Rowling plan to follow up the highest grossing film franchise of all time? With genius.
One of the textbooks required for first year Hogwarts students, was Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. Throughout the Harry Potter saga, this book is used as a encyclopedia for the magical creatures the trio faces. When the movie was first introduced, I was mildly excited for the series, because the backstory for Newt Scamander was so brief, it gave J.K. Rowling a lot of freedom to work with for her first ever screenplay.
With Harry Potter being based in the UK and this movie being based in America, she had free will to show the differences between how the two deal with magic. In the UK Wizarding World, humans who can not practice magic are called Muggles, but in US they are called No-Maj (the most American way of saying no magic). The governing body in the UK is called the Ministry of Magic, where as it’s the MACUSA (Magic Congress of the United States of America) that oversees the US.
Fantastic Beasts sees Newt on a mission of collecting magical creatures, who are mistakenly let loose by a No-Maj. This seemed like a good plot for one movie, but how were they going to carry it for a trilogy?Warner Bros had secured dates for three movies, and as loved as Harry Potter is, I feared that Fantastic Beasts may suffer the same prequel drama the Hobbit caught after it’s first movie – lack of interest. J.K. Rowling confirmed a month ago that the movie would feature 5 films, and then I started to realize that this franchise may have more up it’s sleeve than I thought. Where as Harry Potter covered 7 years of Harry’s life, Fantastic Beasts would cover 19 years (1926 – 1945). The year 1945 is very important in the world of Harry Potter -it was the Gellert Grindelwald was defeated by Albus Dumbledore.
This is a game changer.
Grindelwald was one of the most powerful dark wizards that every lived – long before Thomas Riddle, better known as Voldemort (spoiler alert), ever rose to power. It was this duel in 1945 that gave Albus Dumbledore his stature as one of the most powerful wizards in the world. As important as that is, there’s more to that battle. The pair grew up as best friends, introduced by Gellert’s Aunt, Bathilda Bagshot (incredible name if she ever decided to change careers to something a bit more racy). It was hinted in the books, but Rowling confirmed it years later – Grindelwald and Dumbledore were indeed lovers. Their relationship fell part after Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, was killed in a duel between himself, his brother Alberforth and Grindelwald. The sad part about this fatal duel, is that Albus never knew which curse killed his sister. This is the reason why he refused to confront Grindelwald, even while he was terrorizing the world and everyone thought that only Dumbledore would be able to defeat him. Dumbledore’s entire backstory is tragic, and I’m hopeful that this will be explored fully in the upcoming movies. His sister Ariana was attacked as a child, which interfered with her ability to perform magic. It was never fully explained if she was beat, tortured or raped, but this may be further explained on film. Their father went to jail for going after them and their mother was killed by Ariana’s inability to control her own magic.
With Newt Scamander’s beasts being a small part of the over arching story of Grindelwald’s rise to power and eventual defeat, J.K. Rowling may have found the perfect way to follow up Harry Potter. The first film will be directed by David Yates, who directed The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 and 2.