Fantastic Salaries and Where to Write Them

A look at the film ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ directed by David Yates

It is human nature to want to be successful. Some of us achieve it and some of us do not.

Some come up with ideas that make them super-rich and powerful; Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook is a great case study; what an example of someone who has succeeded on an idea that was ultimately a pretty simple one.

You can forgive Mr Zuckerberg for continuing to run with the Facebook idea since it’s doing well, and doing well for him.

Another example of someone who had a relatively simple idea and ran with it; J K Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise. Oh man, who knew that Potter would become as huge as it has?

The first book was a tiny little thing. Barely a handful of pages that you could blow through in a fairly casual sitting. A pamphlet compared to most books. Again, the concept was simple; a young boy discovers he is part of a magical world and learns about it in a wizarding school where he also learns of a mysterious enemy.

The book was an instant hit. It appealed to boys and girls of all ages, it gave angsty loners someone to admire and who they wish they could be, it made the bullies look like buffoons and showed us that our school years didn’t have to be the worst of our lives.

The books grew in size, the plots and sub-plots started becoming more complex, and as the characters grew up, so did the themes they had to deal with. While I’m not what one would call a ‘fan’ of the Potter stories, I admire them for being part of a series that grew with its audience and did something rarely, if ever, seen in popular entertainment.

The downside was that the films seemed to get a bit too big for their boots. As more and more money got thrown into the budget pot for the screen adaptations, so they became more elaborate and leaned heavier on the special effects teams to hold them together.

Whilst it is the youngest and smallest of all the films, I still maintain the the first film, ‘Philosophers Stone’, is the most honest and appealing of them all, simply because it didn’t know it was going to be massive… It just went on its own merit and did a fair job of it.

After seven chapters to the Harry Potter saga and a warm and fuzzy ending to his story, Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe, between them, publicly acknowledged that there would be no more Harry Potter films. And true to her word, there hasn’t been. There was a stage play and the book of the script, but it wasn’t a film.

But the Potter phenomenon is successful. If you want to draw a good salary, keep doing what you know works well. Rowling has written and published other works, some under her own name and others under an alias. These other works have done well enough to keep her earning a living, but nothing comes close to the success she’s had with Potter.

So it’s only natural that she should want to continue milking the cow right up until the point it dries up and dies. Staying true to what she’s said, Rowling has put the Potter characters to the side and started fresh.

Different people, different country and a different time. ‘Fantastic Beasts’ takes place in 1920’s New York so while it has some Potteresque familiarity, it’s abundantly clear from the off that it’s a totally different animal. [Excuse the pun]

Some have complained that the film wasn’t as dark as the Potter films and was ultimately a little disappointing. If darkness is what you seek from your viewing experience, may I suggest not watching a film that has been approved by the BBFC for twelve-year-old children?

Eddie Redmayne, Britain’s favourite new A-list talent, takes the lead and turns in a pretty solid effort, though perhaps his big breakout role in ‘Theory of Everything’ means that I now struggle to see through to the current chaacter and instead only see a young Stephen Hawking. Note: I have ‘The Danish Woman’ recorded but not watched it yet so there’s still a chance I may break this connection.

Supporting cast are all assigned well to suitable actors and they all deliver the goods. I was intrigued to hear, prior to my viewing, that Johnny Depp had been praised by Rowling for his efforts during filming. This gave me the impression that he didn’t just have a fifteen-second cameo with a few almost unintelligible words of mumbled dialogue.

I read that he is to feature much more prominently in the next FOUR films that make up this new story arc so perhaps she knows something we don’t, but just because Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp, it doesn’t automatically earn him the right to be praised as a genius based on enthusiasm alone.

One area where the film suffers desperately is the camera work. This is another of those films that appears to have been shot for the 3D audience. I still think 3D is a bit of a gimmick and not one that should be encouraged.

Several times throughout the film, I would close one eye and look at it in the normal 2D format and I was appalled at how poorly many scenes were shot with terrible camera angles, and hideous framing. Once you open the other eye and it all goes 3D again, you realise that the format is influencing the shot.  This makes me sad.

Can you imagine the greats like Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick compromising their very sharp artistic vision purely for a cheap thrill? No, neither can I. They would have said, “Nobody ruins my film with this artificial and superficial bollocks. Let me make the film how I want to make it and be gone with your nonsense.”

Well, I’d like to think that’s what they would have said… Perhaps if not in those words, then something to that effect.

I digress.

Standard 2D audiences will not lose out on anything. 3D doesn’t enhance the viewing of the film in any way, all it does is distract you with shiny things the to hide the fact it has been badly filmed.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. It would be more fair to say ‘badly filmed at times’ as there are some reasonable bits. Nothing that would have made Messers Hitchcock or Kubrick sit up and take note, but they do just enough to set an atmosphere.

But this is cinema now. This is how films are being made. It is quite rare these days that a true auteur can present something he/she has created in their unique vision. Studio’s care less for art and want more mass-produced money-makers. It’s like VAG saying, “No more Bugatti or Lamborghini hyper-cars, you can only have the VW Polo.”

There may not be anything wrong with a VW Polo, but when that is the only thing being dished out, it’s going to get boring very fast. We all need a bit of spice an excitement, something a little different to look forward to and this is why we need to pay closer attention to indie films. The real talent has learned that in order to protect your vision, you have to break away from the studios.

But there’s  lot less money out there in independent-land. JK Rowling knows this and that’s why I shall not be holding my breath for the next installments in this series. If the Potter series can be polluted with an abundance of money, so can this new set, and given the very positive looking numbers coming in from box-offices, this is set to be another good payday for the writer and the studio.

The knock on effect from this is that they will make the next film ‘bigger and better’ and pump more money into it for more CG knowing that audiences will lap it up and give them their next mega pay-day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There’s plenty to like about ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and it is easy to see why Potter fans have warmed to it as much as they have, but – at least from my own perspective – it feels too much like flogging the same old horse carcass and with so much CG and gloss applied to it, not to mention the awful focus on making it a 3D experience,  it leaves me wanting an awful lot more.

A reason why you should watch it: No Emma Watson, so you don’t have to endure the most hideous over-delivery of every line given to perform.

A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: You want J K Simmons and not J K Rowling.

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