The Deathly Hallows
Apparating into cinemas back in 2011, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 brought the curtain down on the Potter franchise in fine style, grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide, and garnering some of the best reviews achieved by the film series since Alfonso Cuarón’s celebrated Prisoner Of Azkaban back in 2004.
The late Roger Ebert described the series’ farewell as “(conjuring) up enough awe and solemnity to serve as an appropriate finale and a dramatic contrast to the lighthearted innocence of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone all those magical years ago”.
Perhaps more important was J.K. Rowling’s reaction, with the author happily giving the film her seal of approval.
“It's incredibly sad in places. Incredibly exciting in places and, I feel, all the major characters have sublime moments,” said Rowling at the time of release. “I love it.”
Filling The Void
The conclusion of the Potter series left Warner Bros. with a financial hole to fill, the franchise having topped up studio coffers rather handsomely for the previous decade.
Indeed, with each film bringing in between $800 million to $1 billion at the box office, an additional $200 million or so from home entertainment sales and TV rights, and heaven knows how much more from merchandise, Warner would be left with a sizeable gap to compensate for over the coming years.
With the Dark Knight series due to draw to a close the following summer and the Superman franchise still some way from a return to cinemas, Warner bosses were already pondering whether there might yet be a little more mileage to be wrung from the expensively acquired Potter rights…
Roll Up Roll Up
With The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter proving quite the moneyspinner at Universal Studios’ Orlando Resort (the rival studio having obtained the rights to build Potter-related theme parks), Warner initiated its own UK-based experience based around the studios where the movie series was shot.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter opened in Levesden in March 2012, showing off a wealth of props, sets and costumes from the films, and was greeted by both critical acclaim and hordes of excited visitors.
Our highlight? The stunning scale replica of the Hogwarts castle, as used to film the many exterior shots. It has to be seen to be believed…
Meanwhile, Rowling herself was finding it hard to leave Hogwarts in the past with the announcement of Pottermore, an online experience designed to add a whole wealth of detail to the original stories.
With the last book having been published some four years previously, Rowling was striving to keep the franchise alive for fans eager to spend more time in the world of Potter and chums, with users able to create their own house profile (Gryffindor for us, please) and accrue merit points, wand upgrades, potion recipes etc.
In addition to those interactive facets, reams of new material had been added to flesh out the original stories, with Rowling posting her own thoughts on key junctures of the story, alongside pages of previously unpublished text.
“I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years,” said Rowling, “and to bring the stories to a new digital generation. I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have.”
Of course, Pottermore was not the first time Rowling had revisited her magical universe, with the main series of books having been supplemented by a number of spin-off publications penned by the author.
Whereas this sort of thing usually equates to a lazy cash-in bearing very little resemblance to the original property, J.K.’s additional Potter books were filled with the kind of magical attention to detail that had inspired such devotion in the main saga.
The Tales Of Beedle The Bard was a collection of children’s stories referenced in the original Potter books, while Quidditch Through The Ages mimics a history book chronicling the origins of Harry’s favourite sport. Fantastic Beasts & How To Find Them was a companion book to the aforementioned title, Harry’s Care Of Magical Creatures textbook made flesh.
Meanwhile, somebody somewhere at Warner Bros. was shrewdly making a mental note to revisit the last of these further down the track…
While these Potter-based side-projects could be seen to have cast Rowling as a one-trick pony, the author had also taken steps to expand her horizons beyond the walls of the Hogwarts castle.
The Casual Vacancy , a distinctly non-magical tale of local government wranglings in a small country village had been greeted with a certain degree of indifference by various literary critics, the suspicion being that the knives would have been out for any subsequent title published by such a famous name.
Keen to put this theory to the test, Rowling released noirish crime thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The novel was widely hailed as a triumph, before a leak of its author’s true identity saw it soar to the top of the bestsellers list. Critical celebration followed by huge sales… yet another rabbit plucked from Rowling’s seemingly bottomless hat.
Hits And Misses
Having bid farewell to the Potter franchise, Warner’s fortunes had been mixed with regards to establishing a new franchise to carry the studio through the next few summers.
Its DC properties looked to be the best way to replace Harry and friends, although with Batman hanging up the cape and cowl, it would fall to the Dark Knight’s comic-book stablemates to pick up the slack.
However, The Green Lantern was an unmitigated flop, and while Man Of Steel performed far better at the box office, it left a number of critics and fans feeling ambivalent towards the future of the Superman franchise.
The announcement of Batman vs. Superman certainly grabbed the headlines, but a backup was also required. It was time to revisit the world of witchcraft and wizardry…
By this point, Warner Bros. had appointed itself a new CEO in the form of Kevin Tsujihara, who had beat out competition from respected rivals Jeff Robinov and Bruce Rosenblum in order to land the top job.
Within the company there were reservations over Tsujihara’s suitability for the position. Having risen through the ranks via an unglamorous career in home entertainment and digital distribution, it was questioned whether Tsujihara has the requisite experience in schmoozing A-list talent to fulfil his new responsibilities.
However, Tsujihara answered that criticism (albeit angering fanboys in the process) by recruiting Ben Affleck to play Batman, before playing a pivotal role in convincing J.K. Rowling to re-team with Warner on a new film project…
Powers Of Persuasion
Having pinpointed an adaptation of one of Rowling’s spin-off titles as the best way of reviving the Potter license, Tsujihara was determined to recruit Rowling herself to write the script. However, with Warner having passed on the opportunity to adapt The Casual Vacancy , there was ground to be regained…
Keen to show how much the studio valued her input, Tsujihara flew to the UK on several occasions to meet with Rowling, offering her various assurances on how the adaptation would be handled, and generally adding a personal touch that would prove appealing to the author.
“Kevin handled himself really well,” says Ken Kleinberg, Rowling’s lawyer who brokered the deal with her agent. “He was a great listener, and he conveyed sincerity and concern.” Perhaps more important however, was his amenability to Rowling’s demands, particularly regarding creative control…
Rowling’s primary concern was that as the film’s screenwriter, she would be sure to encounter all manner of studio interference in a way that had never been a problem when writing the books.
Indeed, it’s practically unheard of that a first-time screenwriter would be given such a high-profile gig, without the studio reserving the fallback option of a more seasoned writer waiting in the wings to lick things into shape.
However, Tsujihara allowed Rowling a huge degree of creative control, to the point that Warner are unable to have her script re-written without the author’s approval, a clause that also applies to any future Fantastic Beasts films that may arise. With said assurances granted, a deal was struck and Tsujihara was ready to drop his second seismic announcement of the summer…
Stop The Press
On 12 September, Warner broke the news that the world of Harry Potter would be returning to the big screen in the form of an adaptation of the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them .
Described as neither prequel or sequel, the film will follow the adventures of the book’s fictional author, Newt Scamander, with Rowling confirmed as the project’s official screenwriter.
“The idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of Fantastic Beasts , realised by another writer was difficult,” explained Rowling in an official statement. “As I considered Warner's 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.”
Safe Pair Of Hands
In a sensible move designed to establish some continuity between the new film and those that had gone before, Warner re-signed David Heyman to resume his position as producer, a slot he had occupied on all previous entries in the Potter saga.
“I can't talk really about it yet,” said Heyman, when asked about the new project recently. “All I can say is that it's great. Jo had no need to go back to this universe or world.”
“It's not Harry Potter per se, but the world of Harry. She's chosen to do so because she felt a need to tell a story. That she's doing it means that it's going to be very, very special.”
Needless to say, the announcement of a new Potter film caused quite a stir online, with several famous names queuing up to have their say on the announcement.
“Even if I'm too old to play Luna,” tweeted Potter star Evanna Lynch to Rowling and Warner Bros, “can I go through 10 hours of prosthetics to play a crumple-horned-snorkack? Please?”
“BEN AFFLECK IS PLAYING ADULT HARRY POTTER?!?!? #WarnerBrothersTelephone,” snarfed Damon Lindelof, while Perez Hilton described himself as “hyperventilating” over the news.
Alan Rickman also commented upon the news, although he was sceptical over the idea of a potential Snape revival. “I’m dead,” remarked the star, “so I don’t know where I’m going to be scraped back from.”
While the announcement of a big-screen spin-off from a well loved property usually invites an impassioned backlash from the online fandom, the presence of Rowling as screenwriter seems to have negated that effect almost entirely, with the mood among Potter enthusiasts marked by excitement rather than cynicism.
Frequent Potter commenter (and one-time cast member) Will Dunn seemed to sum up the general mood by hailing Rowling’s input as the critical factor in any new project.
“Had it been conceived and written by a different team and screenwriter I would’ve questioned it, definitely,” says Dunn. “But the fact that Jo’s doing it reassures me a massive amount, as you get the feeling that she’d only do something like this if she really believed in it.”
“I hope it retains some similarities, but not too many... I think it’d be cool if they got at least some of the old crew back. And no, that wasn’t a hint!”
So what exactly is Fantastic Beasts & How To Find Them all about? Well, as mentioned previously, the book is referenced several times in the main Potter series as the textbook used by Harry in his Care Of Magical Creatures lessons, and was presented as such when Rowling’s version was eventually published back in 2001.
An almanac of the weird and wonderful creatures that populate Harry’s world, the book itself is a spotter’s guide to Hippogriffs, Thestrals, Blast-Ended Skrewts et al, complete with handy illustrations to help identify them.
Annotated with input from Harry, Ron and Hermione, it’s a fun little companion piece to the Potterverse, but how exactly will it transfer into a cinematic narrative? The answer lies in its fictional author, Newt Scamander…
A Newts Tale
According to the book, Newt Scamander’s mother was a renowned breeder of Hippogriffs, kindling her young son’s interest in the fantastic beasts mentioned in the title.
A Hogwarts alumnus like Harry, Scamander entered the Ministry of Magic’s Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, working in the Office for House-Elf Relocation before moving on to the Beast Division.
But presumably, the film won’t concern itself with Scamander’s ladder-climbing at the Ministry, and will place more of a focus on his adventures with the various beasties that populate the pages of his famous tome.
The Plot Thickens
The finer plot points of Rowling’s script are currently remaining very close to the author’s chest, but she has divulged a few pointers as to what we can expect from the new film…
“Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years,” says Rowling, “ Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series.”
“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.”
By our calculations, that will put Newt somewhere in his 20s, making his name as an expert on magical creatures, hopefully in the field, as opposed to from behind a desk…
New York New York
The decision to set the story (or at least part of it) in New York is an intriguing one, since Rowling’s stories have thus far been firmly rooted in the UK, with occasional references to European locales (as seen when the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons exchange students come calling).
America on the other hand, has barely been referenced in the Potterverse, although we do know that there are witches and wizards living there, and that Quidditch also exists across the pond.
It will certainly make for a novel experience to throw a few transatlantic accents in there, whilst the prospect of spellcasting in the Jazz age is an appealing one. Don’t be surprised to see the action relocate to the UK though, if only for a flying visit to Hogwarts.
We can only really speculate as to what form Newt’s adventures might take in the new film, but we’d imagine there will likely be some sort of dark wizardry for our hero to rally against.
The film is set pre-Voldemort, but he wasn’t the first to dabble in the dark arts, so we’d expect a new villain to be established by Rowling for Newt to engage with.
Perhaps our hero will uncover an army of trolls being prepared for an assault on the wizarding world? Or might he uncover a dragon smuggling ring, supplying baby fire-breathers to a shadowy figure of questionable motive? We’ll have to wait and see…
Naturally, no casting has been announced as yet, but that hasn’t stopped fans pondering as to who might be a suitable fit for Newt Scamander.
Given the paucity of information surrounding the character, its hard to know what Warner’s casting brief will be, but we can’t help thinking Ben Whishaw would make for a credibly bookish beast-hunter.
Alternatively, Matt Smith might be a decent fit, provided he’s not averse to a return to fantasy. Oh and he looks like he could pull off a black and yellow scarf. Scamander’s a Hufflepuff, you see…
Behind The Camera
No director has been appointed as yet, but the smart money would probably be on a former Potter director returning to the fold, with David Yates hugely well regarded at Warner after delivering the last four films so successfully.
Our favourite Potter outing still remains The Prisoner Of Azkaban , so we’d love to see Alfonso Cuarón given another run at it, although Chris Columbus is probably best left in the past.
If it does go to a newcomer, Warner could surely do worse than Guillermo del Toro, who would likely have a field day bringing Rowling’s outlandish creations to life…
Despite Rowling stating that the film will tell a story set some 70 years prior to Harry’s exploits, there have still been questions as to whether he, Ron and Hermione will be making an appearance in the new film.
Technically, the existence of devices such as Time Turners (as seen in Prisoner Of Azkaban ) proves that time travel is possible in the Potterverse, but it seems unlikely that Rowling will be making use of it in her latest story.
“I don't think I'm going to be coming back", said Daniel Radcliffe, when asked recently. “We can't be doing these characters when we're 40, so there has to be a line drawn.”
That said, he isn’t ruling it out completely. “At the moment I'm in the same position that everyone else is in,” says Radcliffe. “Waiting to hear what information is coming out because I don't know anything about these new films.”
However, Harry’s likely absence doesn’t mean that there won’t be any familiar names and faces cropping up in Fantastic Beasts . We already know that Newt’s time at Hogwarts overlaps with Dumbledore’s reign as headmaster, and indeed, the venerable old wizard supplies the foreword to the book itself.
It’s a notion that David Heyman is particularly open to, telling Vulture that he’s keen to establish some links between this film and the others.
“I like that. A little wink is a good idea,” said Heyman, before going on to muse that a younger version of Dumbledore could well make an appearance in the new story.
Eagle-eyed Potter enthusiasts should also look out for mention of the Lovegood family, as they and the Scamanders will become entwined further down the track, when Newt’s grandson marries Luna…
We’d say of all the characters who could possibly make a return, Dumbledore is the man most likely. Setting the film 70 years prior to the main story would put him somewhere in his 30s, and we’d love to see his story bound in with the primary narrative of Newt’s adventures with Hippogriffs.
As for who might play him, we reckon Tom Hiddleston would be an excellent choice, offering just the right balance of gravitas and mischief. The Dumbledore we’ve previously seen in the films has always seemed a little too stern to us – time to reintroduce a little more fun…
Trolls & Hippogriffs & Leprechauns, Oh My!
So which beasts in particular can we expect to encounter on Newt’s adventures? Well, given his mother’s profession, we’d say Hippogriffs are a pretty safe bet, particularly given the audience’s existing familiarity with Buckbeak / Witherwings.
The existence of Thestrals (the skeletal horses only visible to those who have witnessed death) was first documented in the spin-off book, while Acromantulas (giant spiders) make for pleasingly skin-crawling presences on the big screen.
That said, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for some more obscure critters too. Any fool can identify a giant, but would you know a Hinkypunk if you saw one?
It’s also worth mentioning that Newt Scamander spent a significant period at the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau, and we’d be surprised if at least one of the scaly so and sos didn’t pop up at some point during the film.
There are ten different breeds of dragon (that we know of) mentioned in the Potterverse, and only a handful of them have been shown on screen, so we could well envisage a quest storyline in which Newt goes in search of the fire-breathing beasts.
They also look pretty special on the big screen, as evidenced by the spectacular Gringotts sequence at the beginning of the last film…
Expect the new film to be CGI-heavy, in a big way. As the main Potter series progressed, the filmmakers came to rely on computer-generated wizardry more and more, a trend that will surely continue with Fantastic Beasts and its cast of otherworldly creatures.
It’s an approach that can be problematic, particularly if the story feels secondary to a roll call of showy visual effects. The last thing we want is the cinematic equivalent of a Harry Potter video game, although Rowling’s script should help steer things away from that.
That said, if the CGI is used well and isn’t allowed to overpower the narrative thrust, we could be in for the same sense of wonder as was evoked by the ambling Brachiosaurs at the beginning of Jurassic Park . Only with Grindylows instead of dinosaurs…
While Fantastic Beasts might be a single book, and a slim volume at that, Warner is apparently viewing the film adaptation as the first entry in a potential new series.
As mentioned before, Rowling has already been assured the same creative control on any future Scamander films as she holds on the first one, suggesting that Warner is taking a long-term view of its new story.
Whether Scamander himself proves to have as much character mileage as Harry Potter remains to be seen, but with Rowling involved, it seems likely that the character will be given a proper arc, particularly given the 70 years remove from the original world created by the author.
If nothing else, Newt gives Rowling license to revisit the world she so painstakingly created all those years ago. Given how detailed that world was, one would assume that there is plenty of scope for her to establish a new storyline with a character who is at this stage an enticingly blank canvass…
More To Come?
As well as developing the character of Newt Scamander, Warner is evidently planning to delve even deeper into the Potterverse, with Rowling’s other spin-off titles likely to get the big screen treatment.
At the end of September it emerged that the studio has taken out trademarks on “The Tales Of Beedle The Bard”, “Quidditch Through The Ages”, and the name of that latter book’s fictional author, “Kennilworthy Whisp”.
On top of that, Warner has also trademarked a number of Quidditch team names, suggesting that a sports movie might be the next addition to its Potter roster. Better brush up on our bludgers and beaters…
Save The Date
So when will Fantastic Beasts hit our screens? We’d have originally assumed 2015, were it not for the proliferation of mega-blockbusters already slated for that year. With Episode VII , Avengers 2 and Bond 24 all incoming, would Fantastic Beasts run the risk of being lost amid all the crash bang wallop action of the biggest tentpole year in recent history?
The short answer is yes, and so we’d suppose it far more likely that Fantastic Beasts will arrive at some point in 2016. With the script yet to be completed, and no director in place, we’d expect Warner to take their time with this one, particularly if they’re viewing it as the first in a new series…