J.K. Rowling keeps fans under her spell with a big reveal in Leicester Square
It’s been almost twenty years since the first Harry Potter book was released and almost fifteen years since the book was adapted into the first movie.
The only comparable franchise to the Potter-mania that followed is Star Wars, which has had several decades of a head-start. It is estimated that the Potter brand is worth in excess of $15 billion, and that’s not including the $7.7 billion the movies made combined at the box office. With a return to the wizarding world approaching fast, how did J.K. Rowling make her series of magical novels a success where so many others in recent years have failed?
On Thursday the 13th of October, over a month prior to the release of Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is due for worldwide release, a select few were invited to the Cineworld Empire IMAX in Leicester Square for a “fan event”. Once inside, fans were gifted with a replica of Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne’s character in the new movie) wand and a few other goodies, and took their seats in the screen.
Edith Bowman arrived to tell us about the set-up, with a massive simultaneous satellite link-up with other cinemas around the world everywhere from Sao Paulo to Paris, with one set-up in Los Angeles which would feature Colin Farrell and Jon Voight answering fan questions. Soon afterwards, back in London, Bowman was joined by Redmayne and some of his co-stars Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogel, as well as producer David Heyman who was been with the series since the beginning, and director David Yates, who was helmed every Potter movie since The Order Of The Phoenix.
As the actors came out, the audience in the screen erupted into applause and cheers. Dozens dotted around the auditorium were dressed up as Newt Scamander – his long trench coat and already iconic suitcase were easy to spot – and the impression this movie has already left, a month before release, goes a long way to describe the unique sensibility that Potter fans have for their beloved franchise.
J.K. Rowling wrote the short novella the upcoming movie is based on in 2001 (in between finishing The Goblet Of Fire and working on The Order Of The Phoenix), publishing the novel under the pseudonym Newt Scamander, with 80% of the book’s profits going to Comic Relief. It was 128 pages long, describing 85 different creatures that could be found in the Potter universe, and it was all by all accounts not to be taken too seriously. Now, fifteen years later, it is the kicking off point for a second massive movie franchise, the budget for which has yet to be announced – although the Potter movies ranged from $100 million (The Chamber Of Secrets) to $250 million (The Half-Blood Prince), before publicity and advertising.
While the kids and teenagers who enjoyed Harry Potter and his adventures back in the day, they – just like Radcliffe and co. – have grown into their 20’s and 30’s in the meantime, so Fantastic Beasts has the massive built-in audience ready to return, as well as a whole generation of new fans to entice. Unlike Star Wars and their Prequels Which Shall Not Be Named, this 1920s set predecessor will not be answering questions nobody asked, but essentially kick-starting an entirely new adventure, albeit one which does still link back to Hogwarts. After some back and forth with his producer, director Yates finally admitted “We do mention Dumbledore in this movie, and he features a little bit in a wonderful scene between Colin [Farrell] and Eddie [Redmayne],” which set the audience off on another round of whoops and claps. A quick search of the movie’s IMDb page shows no actor has yet been revealed in the role, so be prepared the guessing game for “Who should play Young Dumbledore?” to start taking up as much conversation as “Who should play Bond next?”
While the fan event led to questions via Twitter that weren’t particularly taxing – everyone was asked how do they relate to their characters, to which Farrell went on the charm offensive, informing the crowd that it was no big deal to him because his family are all wizards back in Dublin, while Fogel took the sweet route (“You don’t need to be able to do magic on the outside to feel like magic on the inside.”) which caused the crowd to burst into a crowd of “Awwwwwh”s.
There is a palpable sense in the air that the people involved want this to be as special as possible, not wanting to disappointing the hundreds in the screen, the thousands in other screens at the same time elsewhere, and the millions of fans around the world with something that could just be another money-making exercise. The cast talked about how they were listened to and felt very involved, something very rare for such a massive production. While the Potter films have already been littered with Oscar-winners, Redmayne taking front-and-centre shows the level expected from his co-stars by the team involved behind the cameras. Yes, it was based on a bit of a joke-y book, but the film’s screenplay was written by J.K. Rowling herself, her first attempt at the medium, which led to the night’s two biggest surprises.
Firstly, stage-hands brought out another empty chair and people in the crowd began murmuring as to who might arrive. Daniel Radcliffe? Emma Watson? Maybe a revelation as to who might be playing Young Dumbledore? When Rowling herself arrived, the atmosphere in the screen was beyond description, the excitement and love for this woman almost blowing the roof clean off. Then, when she revealed that the Fantastic Beasts series would be a quintology, the reaction was hilarious. Fans practically lost their minds, while the actors on stage appeared just as shocked. Rowling clocked Fogel’s expression, and true-to-form for her well-reported wit, she announced “I can kill you off if you’d like, Dan?”, to which everyone burst out laughing.
5. Five. Cinq. Fünf. Cinco. Cinque. https://t.co/t8UVZMtO8V— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 13, 2016
In the aftermath, there was been some backlash to the news of five movies being based on this one slim novella, bringing to mind the trilogy based on The Hobbit, something which fans of The Lord Of The Rings weren’t too impressed with once the movies actually came out. The difference here of course is that Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them isn’t bound to any particular plot structure – other than cementing what the Potter series has already set-up – so Rowling’s imagination can take her pretty much wherever she likes.
There were already questions about the sequel, not due until 2018, with Yates confirming the action will take them to “a different capital city”, but with the $15 billion to continue to be built upon, of course Warner Brothers will want this franchise to go on as long as possible. Off the back of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child – both the play and the huge-selling published script – which takes place nineteen years after the events of The Deathly Hallows, the Potter-universe is continuing to expand in both directions, and unlike the Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent and so many others series, there is an actual hunger for more.
Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them will arrive in Irish cinemas on November 18th.