Archives for January 2017

Oscar Nominations for Fantastic Beasts: Nothing for ‘Best Original Screenplay’?

OscarsWe have this year’s Oscar nominations for the films released in 2016. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them received two nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the categories of production design (Stuart Craig) and costume design (Colleen Atwood). Betting odds at the time of this posting have 17/3 for Costume Design, fourth out of five, and 11 to 1 (ouch) for production design, a category the gamblers have all but ceded to La La Land.

f38811174This is exactly in keeping with the performance of the eight Harry Potter franchise films on Oscar night. Those films, still the most lucrative franchise of all time not featuring comic book heroes (or adding the new Disney Star Wars to the Lucas Films haul), received 12 nominations in six categories and won exactly zero Oscars. The nominations never included a ‘Best’ picture, actor, actress, supporting actor or actress, screenplay adaptation, director, cinematography, editing or either sound editing or mixing. Nada.

You’d think, frankly, that the Academy was made up of cranky Potter Pundits who think the films were a disaster that so despoiled the imaginative experience of the Hogwarts Saga that they deserved only a Razzie (Special Achievement). Folks like me! But we know that is not true. So where’s the love? Can ten gazillion Potter film fans be so wrong about the Warner Brothers cash cow? Are the movies just high gloss schlock?

I’m not a movie guy so I’m out of this discussion, that is, any conversation beyond noting that the professionals in Hollywood sure don’t like the Wizarding World movies. 

FB21I bring all this up, despite knowing almost exactly nothing about film making, to note one thing about the Oscars this year, the nominations that Fantastic Beasts scratched out, and the lack of success of the Potter franchise through the years and, it seems, Beasts this year to win anything, even a nomination in a category of note. 

Fantastic Beasts, unlike all the Potter films, was eligible for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

This year they snubbed J. K. Rowling, The Presence Herself.

I can hear your objections. “Of course she wasn’t nominated for ‘Best Writing’! It was her first attempt at a screenplay. She and her fans should be thrilled she wasn’t short-listed for 2017’s Worst Writing, Golden Raspberry.”

FB66Fair enough. Having studied the screenplay that was published, however, and read too many of the interviews with screenwriter, producer, director, actors and actresses involved, I feel obliged to note that what we got on the screen wasn’t what Rowling wrote.

We knew of seven scenes that were cut before yesterday’s announcement that the DVD will include eleven deleted scenes. And these aren’t just lost overviews of Gotham in the 20’s. These are story elements as important as, say, the ending of the film, the unnecessary bit (?) in which Rowling showed Credence Barebone alive and boarding an ocean liner. Or the scene of the MACUSA auror Graves having the vision which drives him to pressure Credence for information about his family.

Miranda1Not only do those deletions from the shooting script create a different story than the one Rowling wrote, I think it is fair to say they changed the entire story experience. To the point, they obscure the artistry Rowling the story teller (and, oh yeah, best selling novelist of our time) brought to the table as screen writer, the ring writing that caused Lin-Manuel Miranda to call her “The Master of Reprise.”

FB73Would Rowling have deserved a nomination if the Davids had filmed the shooting script and left it as the film we saw in theaters? We’ll never know. What we do know is that whatever the Academy thought of as “failings” in her work are just as likely the fruit of the determination of her producer and director — who in all their collaborations, to repeat myself, have netted exactly zero Oscars — to make her Fantastic Beasts script into a movie that conforms to conventional formula. Rowling described the process of working with them in her Original Screenplay acknowledgments, along with some nicer modifiers, as both “exasperating” and “infuriating.”

Here’s hoping her next contract includes a clause about ‘final cut approval’ so there might be a chance that the next time a Beasts film is up for an Academy Award we don’t have to re-run this post.

First of Eleven Fantastic Beasts Deleted Scenes Released: DVD Due in March

Here is what we had been told about this magical moment, from Part 3: The Six Scenes You Missed in Fantastic Beasts:

  1. The Ilvermorny School Song as Performed by the Goldstein Sisters

“[And there is a cut scene] where Queenie and Tina sing the Ilvermorny song and Newt and Jacob just look at them adoringly and fall in love, in a way.” David Heyman 

The actors who play Jacob and Queenie talk about this scene in this interview available on YouTube. The actress who sings the first verse of the song on that clip also wrote it. The first verse is:

We stand as one, united

Against the Puritans!

We draw our inspiration

From Good Witch Morgan…

fb65David Yates also took advantage of Alison Sudol’s musical talents during production on Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, asking the singer-songwriter, who portrayed Queenie in the film, to “write an alma mater song” that Queenie and Tina (Katherine Waterston) perform to Jacob and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redymayne). David Yates added that during the course of the song you see “the boys slowly fall in love with them.”

David Heyman also noted that this moment came at a rather inopportune time, too, because it took place when Newt, Queenie, Tina and Jacob all go down into the briefcase. “At that point in the story, there’s a lot of stuff going on outside,” he explained, so it felt a little peculiar that all four of them had sat down to sing a song.

Going back to your music, I believe there’s a scene where you sing the Ilvermorny song. Can you still remember?
Alison Sudol:
 Uh… yeah! It’s a duet, actually, that I do with my sister. But there’s this little part where it was really fun, where it goes: “Why don’t we choo-choo there, Massa-chooo-setts? We choo-choo there! We choo-choo there!”Hear her sing the song here

That was my favorite part; Katherine and I both liked that.

fb55David Yates mentioned there was a deleted scene where the girls wrote a school song.
Dan:
 Yeah, so Alison, obviously, is a fantastic musician. They asked her to write the Ilvermorny school song. So there was a moment when they’re down in the suitcase – in the zoo – and we’re like at a little meeting of the minds. In that little respite, they sing the song because they’re trying to argue what’s better – Hogwarts or Ilvermorny.

And that’s where the improve of, “I want to be a wizard,” came from. So we’re sitting there. They sing the song. Me and Eddie are sitting there clapping. And Dan Fogler – it was me [saying], “I want to be a wizard!” That’s the one from the trailer. It didn’t make it in the movie.

So what that it was cut? Well…

fb44(3) The Ilvermorny school song is the parallel scene to the first meeting of the Fantastic Foursome in Tina and Queenie’s flat, a second dinner scene. That set-up and it’s turn at film’s center in their successful adventures in and escape from MACUSA headquarters are both wasted. Yes, we are committed to learning more about these two couples without the scene. But why disregard Rowling’s ring artistry?

Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text Round Up

Part 5A: So What? The Found Text and Its Meaning

Accio Festival! A Roundup of Academic Potter Events on the Horizon

Mark your calendar! For serious Harry Potter readers, uber-fans and academics, it’s time to get together. Save up those Galleons, sickles and knuts, grab a broomstick or gas up your old Ford Anglia. Here are five upcoming events of interest to the Potter conversation:

home_osuOhio State University’s Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2017: The World of Harry Potter. According to the Ohio State University’s website, the guiding principles of the annual “Popular Culture and the Deep Past” conference, hosted by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, is “to celebrate the ongoing presence of historical cultures and traditions in present-day life; and second, to bring diverse communities together in and around Ohio State, including scholars, performers, artists, artisans, teachers, students, and families.” Sounds fun! Whereas in previous years the conference has focused on Tolkien’s works and even Game of Thrones, this year’s conference tackles Potter in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone. The conference seeks to combine a full-fledged academic conference with a carnival celebration of culture, including food, games, activities and cosplay.

  • Where and when: Columbus, Ohio, campus of the Ohio State University, February 24-25, 2017
  • Website: https://cmrs.osu.edu/events/pcdp/2017-harry-potter
  • Submissions: “The submission deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is November 15, 2016. Submissions after that date will be happily received, but cannot be guaranteed full consideration. Abstracts may be submitted via email to cmrs_gaa@osu.edu.” (from the website)
  • Registration: There is no fee to attend but registration is requested; follow the link on the website above; deadline for registration: February 20, 2017.
  • Of special note: As OSU’s campus is no more than a long walk from my front door, I’ll be there with bells on! I am slated to present a paper on the Christian sacramental worldview present in the Potter series. If you go, please stop and introduce yourself.

Signum University/Mythgard Institute’s Mythmoot IV: Invoking Wonder. The Mythgard Mythmoot-theme-mythgardInstitute, housed at Signum U., has established itself in recent years as a hub for the study of imaginative fiction. It has created a space online where the best teachers in the field (think Tom Shippey, Corey Olsen, Amy H. Sturgis and Dimitra Fimi) are accessible to students of any ilk: those pursuing graduate degrees or simply deeper conversations about their favorite books, films and games. Plus, Mythgardians never fail to have a really good time while wrestling with the big questions. Their annual gathering, which organizers describe as combining “academic conference, literary creative meet-up, and fan convention” is extended this year, and there’s still time to both register to attend and to submit your idea for an academic paper, panel, workshop or creative presentation.

  • Where and when: Leesburg, VA; the National Conference Center; June 1-4, 2017
  • Website: http://mythgard.org/events/mythmoot-iv/
  • Submissions: Proposals are accepted through 28 February 2017.  Send proposals to
  • events@mythgard.org with a subject line of “Paper Proposal,” “Panel Proposal,” “Workshop Proposal,” or “Creative Presentation Proposal.” Include a brief bio and A/V requirements.
  • Registration: Pricing is per day, or for the whole conference. See the website for details, as well as a link to registration.
  • Of special note: Mythmoot IV “will feature special guests Dr. Verlyn Flieger (University of Maryland) and Dr. Michael Drout (Wheaton College). It will also include the traditional banquet on Saturday evening, with much food and merriment for all!” (from the website)

DePaul HP confDePaul University, Harry Potter and the Pop Culture Conference. This one day conference, hosted by the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul, boasts that it is for both Muggles and Wizards, which I certainly hope implies that Witches are welcome too (ahem). The event will take place on DePaul’s Loop Campus and features keynotes, panels, fan discussions and more.

  • Where and when: DePaul U., Loop Campus, Chicago, IL; May 6, 2017
  • Website: http://www.mcsdepaul.com/depaul-pop-culture-conference.html
  • Submissions: Rather than formal paper presentations, the conference will feature roundtable discussions with scholars and fans alike, themed around certain topics. Interested parties should send a 200-300 word abstract proposing a topic and a CV/resume to Paul Booth (pbooth@depaul.edu) by February 1st. Proposals should be aimed at a general audience.
  • Of special note: The keynote speaker of the event will be Alana Bennett of Buzzfeed, best known for her writings about race-bending Hermione Granger.

And save-the-date for… Plans are also shaping up for two more Potter fests, the dates for which you’ll want to save. One is new and one has become an old favorite.

  • Roanoke, VA Harry Potter Fest. Lana Whited of Ferrum College recently contact several of us about a new (with hopes to become annual) Harry Potter festival in Roanoke, VA on May 13, with a festive feast the night before. The goal is to have educational events mixed in with the festival events, for a full day of Potter learning and fun. I’ve marked my calendar for this one for sure; if you go, you’re likely to meet more than one Hogwarts Professor there.
  • Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference and Festival. It’s never too early to mark your Chestnut-Hill-College3calendar for the annual HP Conference and Festival in Chestnut Hill, PA. This year’s conference is slated for Friday, October 21 at Chestnut Hill College, with the festival in the small, nearby town of Chestnut Hill the next day. Let’s hope both these events are as fabulously fun as they’ve been in years past. We might also hope it’s not 80 degrees Fahrenheit in October this year (which made for a sweltering time in CHC’s non-air-conditioned St. Joseph Hall), and that the town of Chestnut Hill has more than one port-o-potty, and other ways of accommodating a crowd which last year swelled to an estimated 45,000, wildly surpassing the town’s ostensible preparations. If you’ve been looking for evidence that Harry and his pals are more popular than ever, look no further.

Have you heard of an academic Harry Potter event and/or fan celebration you’d like HogPro readers to know about? Please mention it in the comments below. And don’t forget to get cracking on those submissions! Hope to see you soon…

You can follow Emily Strand on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand).

Happy Birthday Gilderoy Lockhart! Pride as a Real and Fictional Flaw

We sometimes hear the word “pride” tossed around so much that it just becomes another slogan. People are encouraged to be proud of everything from their sports teams to their genetic make-up. However, this week, after a wonderful sermon on why pride is a problem (thanks, Pastor Alan), I re-read the first sentence of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a line that is surprisingly Image result for gilderoy lockhart harry potterrevealing, and I began to ponder pride a little more in terms of its role as a spiritually corrosive force in fantasy literature, just as it is in life. So, let’s visit that deadly sin that rears its ugly head around so many real and fictional corners.

Pride, not to be confused with self-respect or satisfaction with a job well done, is a sin that is ridiculously common among human beings.  No less a personage than Benjamin Franklin pointed out that if we think we have really overcome pride, then we will become proud of our humility. We are, by our very nature, easily drawn into pride. Perhaps that is why it is such an effective element to characterize fictional people. By creating characters who suffer from the sin of pride, authors can make these characters more believable while, at the same time, using that pride to make readers dislike them. For, strangely enough, although everyone has succumbed to pride, it tends to be an easy sin for us to condemn, even while we are guilty of it ourselves.

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How Fantasy Tyrants Rise to Power, Part II: Emperor Palpatine

Palp_trustmeI don’t hate the Star Wars Prequel films. In fact, I’ve likely watched Episodes I, II and III more than I’ve watched the original films and certainly enjoyed them as much. There, I’ve said it: I love the Prequels. Roll the comment thread vitriol.

Hatred for the Prequel trilogy in Star Wars fandom fascinates me, though. It’s a fait accompli in intelligent circles – a last acceptable sweeping condemnation. “Those terrible Prequel films,” one academic friend recently called them in passing, as if The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were one dysfunctional organ within the Star Wars body, threatening the health of the whole and subject to removal without a second opinion. Yet their removal would leave us with a Star Wars that looks like Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace: sliced in half. Like it or not, the Prequels are an essential part of Star Wars story-telling.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not uncritical. The Prequels’ use of ethnic stereotypes to portray characters meant to be “exotically other” (think Newt Gunray, Jar-Jar Binks and Watto) is distractingly offensive, even if it wasn’t meant that way. And sure, Lucas went overboard on the CGI effects. And yep, there was bad acting (flanked by very, very good acting) as well as bad directing.

But there is one criticism of the Prequels I’ll always push back on: their focus on politics. Many fans felt bored or overwhelmed by the films’ heavy political narrative. Whereas the original Star Wars film’s opening crawl tantalized us with “rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base”, and princesses “racingepisode-1-crawl_228ffc5a home,” having stolen “secret plans,” The Phantom Menace’s opening crawl speaks of “turmoil,” “taxation,” “blockades” and endless “debates.” It was a change of tone many fans didn’t favor. Though politics may not be as exciting or sexy as rebel spaceships racing around, still we must attend to the politics of the Prequels, for it is these films’ source of power. Although the Prequels ostensibly tell the story of Anakin Skywalker’s downfall, they also tell of the rise of one of fantasy’s greatest tyrants: Emperor Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious. Palpatine’s rise is not violent at first. In the Prequels, his is a politically-maneuvered ascent, which uses the fear and insecurity of the people and the crushing bureaucracy of democratic rule to establish absolute tyranny.

1999’s The Phantom Menace begins with a game – not the one Chewie and Threepio play on the Millennium Falcon, but a bigger, much darker game, played by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. He has pitted the greedy Trade Federation against the Galactic Senate – of which he himself is a member – in order to seed division and fear in the galaxy. Filmically, the “menace” of The Phantom Menace was Jar-Jar, but narratively it is Sidious, whose back-to-back holographic appearances in the film’s opening scenes – first as Sidious, then as Senator Palpatine – slip us a clue to the riddle of the film’s title.

At Sidious’ command, the Trade Federation’s droid army invades peaceful Naboo, attempting to hold Queen Amidala hostage, terrorizing her people until she will sign a treaty which legitimizes their occupation. Young Obi-Wan’s instincts serve him well when he has “a bad feeling about this”. Qui-Gon too senses that something more sinister lurks behind the scenes, citing the lack of logic in the julius-caesar-4.jpetFederation’s stunt. So why does Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray listen to Sidious, agreeing to perform his dirty work? In Star Wars and History, Tony Keen avers Sidious’ pseudo-religious position as a Sith Lord gives him political authority over the Federation, just as the title or chief priest, or pontifex maximus, gave Octavian political clout in Imperial Rome (132). This correlation is corroborated by Sidious’ introduction of his Sith apprentice, Darth Maul, a demonic figure who carries out their plans while intimidating the Federation into submission.

Keen points out another important link between Star Wars and Imperial Rome; just as Julius Caesar galactic-senate-history-2_19cf71d1stacked the Roman Senate with his own partisans (129), Palpatine carefully establishes his dictatorship while leaving the appearance of democracy. But it is a democracy that, he suggests, no longer works the way it should. “There is no civility, only politics,” he tells Queen Amidala. “The bureaucrats are in charge now.” (The Phantom Menace, chapter 27) He subtly persuades Amidala not to rely on the Senatorial process, but to vote “no confidence” against Chancellor Valorum, insisting on the need for stronger leadership and trusting to his own magnetism to do the rest. Thus Senator Palpatine becomes Chancellor Palpatine.

pg-35-napoleon-1-dea-gettyThen, in Attack of the Clones, Chancellor Palpatine continues to play on the corruption and bureaucracy that hinder the Galactic Senate’s effectiveness. As war looms, the Chancellor requests and receives special powers, meant to be temporary, like the temporary title of dictator which Julius Caesar sought, attained and only lost when assassinated. These powers enable Palpatine to create an army for the Republic, and fear of the Separatist threat moves the Senatorial vote in Palpatine’s favor. Keen points out the cue Lucas took here from the rise of Napoleon, whose “elevation to the position of emperor was also approved by a large majority of French citizens in a referendum vote.” (Star Wars and History, 139)

In addition to Imperial Rome and Napoleonic France, Hitler’s establishment of Nazi Germany also informs Palpatine’s rise to power. Keen notices that like Hitler, Palpatine uses deep ideological divisions in society and government to his advantage, and when an economic crisis throws the government into gridlock, the brutal dictator’s party gains power through persuasion. And in Revenge of the Sith, a flash point of crisis – the attempt on the Chancellor’s life by Jedi Mace Windu – gives Palpatine the authority to destroy his only remaining rival for power: the Jedi Order. This echoes “the mysterious fire which Hitlerburned down the Reichstag building on the evening of February 27,” (Keen, 143) which allowed Hitler to claim that the government itself was in danger, just as Palpatine cites “a plot of the Jedi to overthrow the Senate,” (Revenge of the Sith) and declares himself leader of the first Galactic Empire, “for a safe and secure society”. Cue Padmé Amidala’s most iconic line: “So this is how liberty dies – with thunderous applause.” It is significant that the final lightsaber battle between Yoda and Palpatine takes places in the halls of government. Why not smash them up? Democratic structures will no longer be needed in Palpatine’s new Galactic Empire.

In Star Wars as in history, unchecked fear among the populace and the crushing inertia of bureaucracy in times of crisis create political climates wherein societies willfully surrender democratic structures in favor of a swift, authoritative action by a strong individual. In Star Wars as in history, this is how tyrants rise. This disturbing political thread of the Prequel films may have bored audiences, but when taken seriously, it should deeply interest us instead. And it should make those who feel secure in their democratic societies rather uncomfortable. Who knows? Maybe this difficult truth about our precarious freedom is part of why audiences turned their thumbs down on the Prequels.

jarjar1I predict that as we continue to deepen our examination of those films, mining their narrative and symbolic richness instead of scoffing at their surface-level flaws, appreciation for the Star Wars Prequels will grow. What do you think? Please share your comments below. If you do, however, please be nice to Jar-Jar. It’s really not his fault.

Follow Emily Strand on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand). Also, you can catch up on Part I of this series, on the rise of Lord Voldemort, here.