Last week, news broke that Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling would be stretching the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themfilm series into five films, versus the originally planned three. Reaction was mixed. This comes ahead of the release of the first film on November 18th, so, for those people who don’t spend every waking moment on the internet, thinking about upcoming film and TV shows, this might seem like a big step. One might even call it “money-grabbing.” (And many have.)
We live in a pop culture environment in which the discerning viewer is understandably very cautious of longer film series, and I get where that’s coming from. I blame it mostly on Warner Bros’ unnecessarily bloated three-film adaptation of The Hobbit, but there are countless examples of studios trying to stretch narrative material over more films than the story can support. This results in bad, disappointing film adaptations and, when the original source material is one of your favorites, this is very sad.
But, guys, I’m here to talk about why the news that the Fantastic Beastsseries will be made into five films is actually good news for Harry Potterfans…
Fantastic Beasts isn’t The Hobbit.
First, let’s get this one out of the way. Anyone complaining that Fanastic Beastsshouldn’t be made into more than one movie because it is based on only one book obviously hasn’t read that book. Because it’s not really a story at all. If that book were given a straight, “faithful” adaptation to the big screen, it would probably have to be some kind of avant garde documentary. It might be awesome, but it would decidedly not be a classic Hollywood blockbuster, which is obviously what Warner Bros. is going for here.
J.K. Rowling has created an entire narrative for Newt Scamander and the Euro-American wizarding world of the early 20th century. I won’t call it entirely new because, as we recently learned with mentions of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, Fantastic Beastsis following historical world-building that Rowling obviously started thinking about when she was writing the Harry Potterbook series. Yes, she’s that good.
So, no Fantastic Beastsisn’t based on one book. Rather, it’s based on the rich, extensive fictional universe backstory Rowling partially built for her original seven-part, bestselling book series. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s keeping the story of Grindelwald’s rise to power (a loose allegory for the Second World War) to only five movies. It could probably stretch much longer.
Of course it’s a money-grabbing move…
…But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a narratively-minded one, too.
Some fans tend to have a somewhat distorted perception of the complicated relationship between storytelling and money. I get it. I have it, too. We all want to believe that our favorite big-budget stories are untainted by the vulgar influence of money. (And, when it comes to fandom and transformative works, they aren’t — one of the reasons why it can be so much fun to spend time in the fanworks playground.)
But we live in a capitalist country where entertainment is one of our biggest industries and most lucrative national exports. When a company like Warner Bros. or a publisher like Scholastic releases a movie or a book, they are trying to make money. They need to make money. It’s their main function. This is the nature of capitalism. Sure, many of the individual forces within that money-making venture will care about the story, but money-grabbing is literally the corporation’s main purpose.
The thing is: good stories and money-grabbing tend to be entwined. Consumers (that’s you) tend to spend money on stories that are good, stories that speak to them, stories that say something insightful about this particular moment in time-space (even if that insight is wrapped up in a few layers of Marvel superhero). Making a money-grabbing decision to extend a franchise from three to five movies can’t just be a money-grabbing one because, if there is really no narrative reason to extend this franchise, then the box office will most likely reflect that. (See the hot, fascinating mess that is currently the Divergent on-screen adaptations.)
J.K. Rowling has earned our trust.
More than any of the trailers or the hype, the one fact that gives me immense faith in the Fantastic Beastsseries is that J.K. Rowling is behind it. She wrote her very first screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, has already written the screenplay for the second film, has “ideas” for the third one, and no doubt has known exactly where this story has been going since its inception.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 13, 2016
Rowling has proven herself a veritable wizard (forgive me) at long-form, serialized storytelling. Seriously, I wrote a whole article about this. She demonstrated a mastery in plotting and executing the Harry Potterseries — her first published novels, let me remind you — that many veteran novelists are never quite able to achieve. There is literally no other modern storyteller I would better trust with sculpting an expansive, serialized, big-budget film franchise on her first screenwriting try. J.K. Rowling has more than earned my trust. And, guys, Twitter has checked. She’s sure about this…