Fantastic Beasts and How to Film Them
“I always said that I would only revisit the Wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it.”
A little over a year ago, the Harry Potter fandom received enough news to send it into a frenzy, the likes of which has not been seen since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit theaters. The loyal readers of the Potter fandom from Reddit, Tumblr and MuggleNet have something to speculate on once again. Our heroine, J.K. Rowling, has taken up her Potter pen once again and set to work. In 2016, Rowling will once more grace us with the Wizarding world, but this time set in New York seventy years before the start of the series we know and love. With this information alone, the fandom can speculate with theories and thoughts that can only be fully satisfied once all three movies are out.
Harry Potter is a series written by J.K. Rowling. In the Potterverse, background information is given in the form of a companion book titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book exists in the Potterverse too, so readers have the feel of reading a book Harry himself had read. The author of said book is Newt Scamander and he details the origin, habitat and capabilities of the magical creatures that inhabit the Wizarding world from a dragon to a unicorn and even creatures unique to the Potterverse like Dementors and Lethifolds. This film series is said to be an adaptation of that companion novel.
Warner Bros. Adaptation Rights
When Warner Bros. signed the adaptation rights for the movies, they gained rights to the story, not the actual characters. Due to the massive success of the original Potter series, it is understandable that they want to continue the franchise. They approached J.K. Rowling in hopes of making an extended partnership and permission to make a movie based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Rowling is very protective of her characters so she refused at first. There are things about Newt, she said, that nobody else knows and if anyone was going to write about him, it would be her. Days later, she found herself writing a rough script with a story she could see making the screen. She relented under condition that she is given creative control and script writing privileges.
“It all started when Warner Bros. came to me with the suggestion of turning ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ into a film. I thought it was a fun idea, but the idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ realized by another writer was difficult. Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it and I already knew a lot about Newt. As hard-core Harry Potter fans will know, I liked him so much that I even married his grandson, Rolf, to one of my favourite characters from the Harry Potter series, Luna Lovegood.”
“As I considered Warners’ proposal, an idea took shape that I couldn’t dislodge. That is how I ended up pitching my own idea for a film to Warner Bros.”
All the Potterheads know is that the storyline of the film is a cryptic message Rowling posted on her Twitter account, originally an anagram, “Newt Scamander only meant to stay in New York for a few hours. Circumstances ensured that he remained… for the length of a movie, anyway.”
This is our first clue. The series that Rowling will pen will start off in the 1920s New York and will star Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This leads to questions: What creatures will be featured? Will we stick with New York the entire series or see other countries? And above all, what kind of a story can we expect? It can be discerned that New York will be the primary starting point but will it be the endpoint? Will the series take the watchers elsewhere, on the other side of the Atlantic or the Pacific?
From the cryptic teaser line, one can glean possibilities. This suggests that Newt is busy with something and what else could Newt be busy with other than the study giving rise to his coming book? So, it can be deduced that the film will feature Newt studying magical creatures and he remains in New York, at least for the first movie. From this spring more questions: Will it be limited to New York? Will it stick on one side of the Atlantic and never see the other side? In the economic capital of the United States, let alone in what came to be known as the ‘roaring twenties’, there may be plenty to explore in New York. Perhaps a new magical alleyway and a new Wizard school. As an official of the British Ministry, we may even meet the American Ministry and gain some insight into how it runs fifty states. Considering who Newt is, magical creatures will inevitably be featured.
Before one can expect anything, what the Potterheads knows of Newt Scamander must be recapped. He was a Hogwarts student, he was sorted into Hufflepuff and he later worked for the Ministry of Magic’s Creature Division. While there, he received the offer that made him famous: a chance to pen a detailed account and study of magical creatures worldwide. It is widely assumed that the film series will focus on that study. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was published in the 1920s and is not only a book that every Wizarding household has, it is a required reading at Hogwarts. Its publication date gives insight into what to expect.
Cast and Setting
The fact that the book was published in the 1920s, the very decade the new trilogy takes place in, gives clues as to what will be seen. Newt Scamander is known for publishing Fantastic Beasts. Any movie, let alone a series, about him will feature them. What else other than a horde of magical creatures will suffice as a plotline for a series of films starring Newt Scamander in the very year the book was published?
One way to guess correctly what the film may feature is the hints given out leading up to its release. Rowling hinted of the existence of a magical Wizarding school based partly off Native American culture. Due to plot reasons, she would not say what tribes are involved as it would give away the location. Being based off Wizarding culture debases the common assumption that the American Wizarding school was the Salem Witches Institute which was mentioned briefly in Goblet of Fire. With the directors reportedly looking for two American boys and two girls who are said to be educated at the unknown school, we can guess quite accurately that the American Wizarding school and possibly the wider Wizarding world will be featured.
Another way to tell what the series may be about is the casting. Eddie Redmayne will play Newt Scamander and Katherine Waterson will play as Porpentina, Newt’s later wife. So, not only will an American Wizard school be introduced, there will be romance. What the relationship is between Newt and Porpentina and how it develops remains to be seen but we can assume that by the end of the series, their romance will be in full swing.
The question that probably bugs Potterheads is what creatures will be featured? Every Potter fan has personal favorites out of the list of magical creatures written about. Showing those located only in the United States may get boring. Will Newt eventually travel outside the States? With three movies to tell the tale, one setting does seem rather bland and so it can be speculated that it is very possible that watchers will see the tropical regions or marshes. Only time will tell and during that time, Potter fans will do what they do best: speculate with each breath, and spin the most ridiculous theories from every word out of the author’s mouth.
The series has graced the readers and watchers alike with Hippogriffs, Dragons and Basilisks, but there are more that remain unseen. Many can only be seen if the film ventures across the Atlantic. Fantastic Beasts gives detailed accounts of the species of dragons and where they live, a very detailed account of a Lethifold which can only be found in tropical climates, and the sickening breath of a Nundu which is found only in Africa. If the film sticks to the US, it will be very limited in what creatures can be featured on the big screen.
Aside from educated guesses is what one knows of the film. Once again, Potter veteran director David Yates returns to direct along with Steve Kloves who is working alongside Rowling on the script. J.K. Rowling herself already has script writing privileges and creative control so Kloves is certainly not getting the role he had in the original Potter films. It is also known that we will likely get a cast of new characters due to the fact that the characters associated with Dan, Rupert and Emma have not been born yet.
Knowing that David Yates is returning to direct of course has its upsides and downsides. For one thing, this new series has its old crew and they have more experience in this field and love working with it. For another, Yates is not the most popular director the Potter films had to offer, with most preferring Chris Columbus or Mike Newell. In fact, many Potter fans dislike Yates and his crew for delivering movies that were, in their opinion, unfaithful to the source material and choosing to leave out important details. This has the potential to split Potter fans down the middle once again.
However, there is one unifying factor. J.K. Rowling will be directly involved in the making of this film. The main criticism is that Yates and Kloves went against the source material. That is one thing Yates and Kloves will not be able to do with this series. In fact, the aforementioned criticism of leaving important details from the books out is moot because this will be completely original, only based off the book, split into three films, with Rowling practically in charge of the storyline with creative control and script writing privileges. The Potterheads, critics and lovers alike, can trust her to deliver a freshly told story aside from the main books.
Looking at the source book and the types of creatures it mentions and knowing that this series will adapt the book, gives more liberties than one thinks. It can be made into a story where Newt meets those creatures, it can be made into a study that takes place entirely in New York while our main character studies them from afar, it can be a documentary, (that’s the next section) and it does not have to be in the order the book mentions them. Some creatures are pets, some can only be viewed in certain climates, and some are rather violent and dangerously deadly which may ultimately risk our main character’s life (though all fans know he’ll live.)
What Type of Movie?
From what we know of the series, there is still one thing unknown. Will the story only start off in New York and travel later to other continents and countries as Newt discovers magical creatures and their habitats? If so, will this be a kind of documentary? Will there be an encompassing plotline? Will Newt be chasing after a specific creature and on the way end up meeting a host of others? These questions and more are what make the wait exciting and they are unlikely to be answered anytime soon. Bit by bit, fans may begin to piece the story together but there are upsides and downsides to each way of storytelling this series might have to offer.
An upside to filming the series as a documentary gives the watcher a feeling of non-fiction and fact. The watcher would feel as if he or she is observing the beasts alongside Newt and not separated by a screen, especially if it decides to release to 3D cinemas. The downside is that not everyone likes this kind of filming and it might make it seem boring and uninteresting. If they did go ahead, they would need to transcend the boredom. Plus, a camera and a narrator would not translate well to the Harry Potter realm, especially as Wizards are not exactly known to employ the use of cameras (with the obvious exception of Colin Creevey who was Muggle-born.) A video camera in the 1920’s would not be nearly as effective as it is nowadays so it might create a bit of an anachronism.
Of course, it could have the conventional structure following a specific plotline, which is far likelier. The story would be the publication of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This too might present a chance to see the beasts up close while also watching them in action. Instead of observing the Nundu eating its grass and strolling, it would be shown wiping out an entire village with its breath alone. Instead of hearing rumors of the Quintapeds off Scotland being transfigured humans, they would be shown up close with full history given, probably by effect of a dramatic flashback. The film could even address rumors of an Acromantula colony in Scotland without confirming it, only because the readers and watchers already know it is confirmed.
Easter eggs and the Important Conclusion
This leads to a bunch of possible Easter eggs, or hints, that the directors and Rowling herself may choose to place. As hard-core Potterheads know, the 1920s hold significance to the Wizarding world as well. The Pensieve moments in Half-blood Prince, the Gaunts and the arrest, the Love potion, and even Tom Riddle’s birth, all took place in the 1920s. While the story takes place in New York, it is not unlikely that these events may be mentioned in passing as nods to the original series. Whether these come to pass is interesting to think about, but in the face of the potential plotline, unimportant.
Magical creatures may seem very mundane to a lot of people, who do not realize how much more interesting they can be than the creatures that Muggles are used to. Depending on how this is pulled off, the film is in danger of flopping.
If it attracts a new generation of watchers who are not as familiar with the series as readers are, it may appear boring focusing solely on magical creatures. A plot is needed: A Nundu can wipe out an entire village and cannot be taken down except by the combined efforts of a hundred skilled Wizards (which could be enough to take up an entire film based on how difficult it is to subdue), the Quintaped history of two rival clans cursing each other until they ended up as four-legged carnivorous beasts make for a fantastic back story and possibly an entire film like the Nundu. In the end, this film series has the potential to go to places that no book or film based in the Wizarding world has gone before. The question: Will it pass that particular challenge?
What do you think? Leave a comment.