We’re getting more Harry Potter films! Well, kind of. Actually, not really. Okay. So, here’s what happened…
For some time now, Hollywood has been searching for the “next Harry Potter” just as it has also been searching for the “next Twilight.” As a result, YA novelists have been raking in the galleons (dollars, for those of you muggles) on rich film rights deals from Hollywood studios and production companies. However, other than The Hunger Games it’s been a parade of failures with the occasional “whoa, how did that get a sequel?” (see: Percy Jackson). Chockstone Pictures and Nick Wechlser Productions discovered earlier this year that simply using a different property from the same author won’t guarantee similar success, thus the failure of the film adaptation of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s The Host.
So, what if you use the same author but adapt not a completely new property but instead something set inside the universe of the already established franchise? According to The Hollywood Reporter, that’s exactly what Warner Bros. is doing with J.K. Rowling, who will make her screenwriting debut in adapting her Harry Potter companion novel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them into a new film series.
Wait, what? Allow Rowling to explain (kind of):
“Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.”
Okay. Ashamed nerd admission: I’ve seen and loved all of the Harry Potter films, and read all but the first two novels. However, in reaction to this news I had to actually look up Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
It is a clever Harry Potter universe tie-in novel published in 2001 under the pseudonym Newt Scamander (Rowling publishing under a pseudonym, huh, why does that sound so familiar?). In the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts is a half history of the study of magical creatures/half magical creatures encyclopedia textbook that is required reading for all first year Hogwarts students. The author, Newt Scamander, is sort of like the Potter universe’s Charles Darwin, not the evolution part but the discovery of all manners of new species part.
Fantastic Beasts is referenced in the first Harry Potter novel, and Rowling and the publisher decided to put it out as a re-creation of Harry’s textbook, even with supposedly hand-scribbled notes from Harry, Hermione, and Ron. At the time, most of the profits from the book went directly to charity. One assumes Rowling was not so charitable in negotiating her deal with Warner Bros. to adapt it into a film series.
Of course, we’ve heard the “it’s not a prequel or sequel but simply set in the same fictional universe” line before, most notably last year with the not-an-Alien-prequel-that-totally-was-an-Alien prequel Prometheus. That didn’t work out so well for them. So, Warner Bros. and Rowling need to be very clear just exactly how connected this thing actually will be to Harry Potter, and right now they’re saying “practically not connected whatsoever” even though the events of the film will influence future additions to the Harry Potter World theme park. It sounds as if this new film series will follow a magical creatures historian who starts in New York City before traveling the world, discovering new creatures and dealing with the threat of muggles becoming aware of the wizarding world.
Personally, it was never really the minutia of the wizarding world that pulled me into the Harry Potter universe but instead the actual characters and instantly relatable if somewhat regrettably accurate depictions of the various stages of youth (like most teenagers, Harry Potter is often obnoxiously insolent, sullen, and brooding in those books). As such, an expansion of the fictional universe focused on entirely new characters does not particularly excite me. Then again, it is Rowling who created and wrote those characters, and she will be doing so again in the form of the adventures of Newt Scamander. Oh, wow. I think it just donned on me how awkward it will sound if they put that name into the titles of the films, Newt Scamander & The Finding of Fantastic Beasts? That sounds just as desperate a Harry Potter knock-off as Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief or Benjamin Sniddlegrass & The Cauldron of Penguins (don’t know that last one – read about it here).
However, maybe we should look at this as somewhat of a compromise on the part of Warner Bros. This past summer most of the films that failed, financially, were original properties, not sequels or comic book adaptations or both. Even though film lovers say they want more original films the film going public begs to differ. So, Warner Bros. and Rowling are preparing to give us a new franchise tangentially connected to another one, meaning it will have the feel of an oddly familiar original film. You know what? I’ll take it. Bring on the magical creatures, Newt Scamander, and we beg your forgiveness and patience for the time it takes us to adjust to the awkwardness of your name.
What do you think? Totally love all the little details about the Harry Potter universe and thus are down with Newt Scamander? Like me, have some trepidation as it is the characters not the magic of the Harry Potter universe you liked? Don’t care and just wonder, “What the hell is a Scamander?” Let us know in the comments.