Unlocking ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ Part Two – The Filmmakers’ Choices: the Narrative

fb21If you’re a fan of Joanne Rowling Murray as I am, whether she’s writing under her J. K. Rowling pseudonym or the Robert Galbraith nom de plume, you were as happy as I was to learn that her first screenplay was to be published as a book. That pretty much guaranteed, I thought, that we’d be getting what Rowling wrote versus what the producer, director, script re-write, and editor chose to put in the film.

The excitement about even the possibility that Beasts would be an actual Rowling product rather than a “story approved by” and fan-servicing debacle a la Cursed Child was sufficient to make me shell out the cash for “The Original Screenplay.”

But, as learned in the first post of this five part series on ‘Interpreting Fantastic Beasts,’ “The Original Screenplay” is not the original draft. the second draft, or even the shooting screenplay from which the film was shot. The book we have is just a transcription of the film as it appears in the theaters.

fb67It is, in effect, not Rowling’s screenplay. It is the screenplay of the film that David Heyman and David Yates decided to release after making their cuts from Rowling’s work. In the third post of this series, we’ll review the six scenes, two of them crucial, that the filmmakers decided the movie didn’t need. Here I want to go over very briefly the narrative Heyman and Yates are giving the press about their being the decisions makers and how Rowling, as screenwriter, works for them and not vice versa.

It’s an interesting story they’ve decided upon, if they struggle to keep to the script. After the jump, David Heyman and David Yates on their successful efforts to get J. K. Rowling to write a decent screenplay.

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Unlocking ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ Part One – J. K. Rowling, Screenwriter: the Narrative

fb7I spent the better part of a day last week reading the transcripts and watching the videos of online interviews with Fantastic Beast actors, the director, the producer, and the principal screenwriter, The Presence. I stopped counting after the first fifty articles. My notes, essentially cut and paste extractions of the parts of each interview I thought memorable, ran to just shy of 7,000 words. Please note: I have never bothered to read any interviews with the stars of the eight Harry Potter movies or with the various directors, producers, or screenwriters involved with those blockbuster projects.

I did this for Fantastic Beasts not because I have lost my mind, or, at least I hope that is not the reason for or a consequence of this largely demeaning exercise. I spent a precious day searching and surfing the pablum of discussions between journalists assigned to the entertainment beat and celebrities using those journalists to create greater interest in their product because I wanted to understand J. K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

In the not so distant past, if I wanted a greater understanding of Rowling’s work, I re-read the text she wrote. With her Harry Potter adventures and Cormoran Strike mysteries that has proven to be a successful method: read, reflect, re-read, discuss with thoughtful readers, write about, reflect, re-read, chart, et cetera.

fantastic-beasts-book-coverBut with Fantastic Beasts that method won’t work. Yes, we have a text that purports to be “The Original Screenplay.” It is not, however, the Rowling screenplay used to shoot the film or in which she tells her story. It does not include the six deleted scenes we have been told about (I assume there are more). It does not include the explanations and information available only in exhibits and in the number of movie tie-in books that have been published for the Wizarding World fandom to purchase in the Christmas gift-giving season. There are at last count five revelations with important ramifications that have been discovered by fans in the last two weeks alone and Rowling is making almost daily supplements to what we know on her revitalized jkrowling.com website.

Interpreting a movie is a different thing than reading a book. I have said that before in the context of the difference between the imaginative and sense experiences one has in a book and at the movies. It is true as well because of the significantly different artistry and techniques involved in delivering such antipodal experiences. Here I mean something else.

fb21Reading a book and understanding it for the most part is me and the text as published and, sadly, too often as augmented by continued revelations of the author. ‘Reading a movie,’ especially a blockbuster movie involving hundreds of millions of dollars, I’m learning is a scramble to assemble the text, a definitive text, from the inputs and changes made to the screenwriter’s text by the many collaborators and decision makers involved in making the sausage, not to mention the designers, prop makers, and tie-in books writers.

Today I want to start a five part series on ‘Interpreting Fantastic Beasts’ with a review of all we’ve been told to date about Rowling’s writing process as a new screenwriter. In the next four posts, I hope to look at the filmmakers’ story about Rowling’s efforts, the six cuts we know they made to the original screenplay, the five tie-in story revelations fandom has discovered thus far as well as Rowling’s addenda, and, to conclude, a ‘So What?’ review of what we’ve learned and what it means in understanding and speculating about the five film series.

It starts after the jump!

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Guest Post: Wizarding World Names! Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them 

fb3A Guest Post from Wayne Stauffer — ‘The Names We Need to Understand in Fantastic Beasts.’

In the Harry Potter series a major theme Rowling explored was the tension between alienation and inclusion–characters who are excluded from a group and who work to be included or start their own group for including others.

In working my way through A Year with CS Lewis, the December 14 excerpt is from Lewis’s “The Inner Ring,” delivered at King’s College, University of London, on December 14, 1944. He makes this point, “… in all men’s lives at certain periods,… one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside….Victorian literature is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society….” (italics mine). And he continues to develop this idea of yearning for one’s place amid one group or another. 

rh1It was the word “hagridden” that caught my eye because of the similarity to our Harry Potter friend, Rubeus Hagrid. (Many of you are already with me on where this is going.) Lewis’s context clues about its meaning give a broad understanding, so I went to the dictionary to find its adjective form. “Worried” and “tormented” are meanings for this word that dates to the late 1600s. Well now, Hagrid most certainly has that yearning for acceptance into the wizarding community, that Ring of his choosing, and suffers his share of torment for his halfblood status as wizard/giant and the semi-ostracism that accompanies it. As with her other choices of words, Rowling isn’t simply tossing it out there simply for the sound or exotic attraction.

fb8Now, in the Fantastic Beasts series, this theme of alienation and acceptance/inclusion continues. And names continue to play a part. During questioning by Percival Graves, viewers find out that Newt Scamander was expelled from Hogwarts for endangering wizarding lives with some allegedly dangerous beast or another. Outside the film, however, we are told that Dumbledore intervened to have the expulsion dropped.

Let’s look at the names in Fantastic Beasts to begin our exegesis of their literal meanings and how that fits into the named character’s role in the story. [Read more…]

Fantastic, Forceful Films: Common elements in Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up(Some Rogue One spoilers below – clearly marked in ALL CAPS. Fantastic Beasts spoilers too, but seriously, people, you’ve had weeks …)

Ever since I learned to speak Star Wars at the Mythgard Institute a year ago, I’ve been eyeing the places where the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises seem to intersect, and these places are many. So the fact that Warner Brothers and Disney Studios have, within a month, released film tie-ins to their beloved epics is no great shock. Neither is the fact that the films employ common elements and themes in seeking to delight long-time fans while enticing new ones. Let’s talk about four elements Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One share.

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Not all Fantastic Beasts are Fictional

hpspiderIt seems appropriate that this paper should be released at this season of renewed interest in JK Rowling’s magical creatures. A pair of Potter-loving scientists from India recently discovered a new species of spider, and, upon noticing its resemblance to the Sorting Hat, named it Eriovixia gryffindori. Even better, they provided a explanation of the name in the scientific paper that described the beastie.

harry_potter_sorting_hat_by_boywizard94-d5ma8izThis uniquely shaped spider derives its name from the fabulous, sentient magical artifact, the sorting hat, owned by the (fictitious) medieval wizard Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and stemming from the powerful imagination of Ms. J.K. Rowling, wordsmith extraordinaire, as presented in her beloved series of books, featuring everyone’s favorite boy-wizard, Harry Potter. An ode from the authors, for magic lost, and found, in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but oft overlooked world of invertebrates, and their secret lives.

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