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Fantastic Beasts and the art of milking it

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As Comic Relief’s Fantastic Beasts is to be made a movie trilogy, we wonder how Warner execs sleep at night.

A few years ago, I was sat on a bench having a cigarette in a town centre in West Yorkshire. There I sat, mesmerised by a one-legged pigeon pecking away at a discarded KFC chicken leg. Despite a general feeling of disgust towards the whole cannibalistic nature of the scene, I noticed that having eaten the remaining gristle on the bone, the pigeon continued to peck away. It pecked and picked, determined to squeeze out every last bit of potential in the bone whilst completely oblivious to the desperation it exuded. I was reminded again of this scene late last week when it was announced the first of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feature films are set for cinematic release in November 2016.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was originally a fictional text book in the Harry Potter universe, written by the wizard Newt Scamander. It was later brought into our universe in 2001 by JK Rowling, when it was published as a charity novel for Comic Relief. The book is all of 54 pages, yet Warner Bros have seen fit to dig up Seabiscuit’s corpse for a good kicking, confirming that they will pad the book out over three films.

This is the latest example in what appears to be an ever increasing trend of film studios exploiting the loyal fanbases

The news of a film trilogy based on what is essentially a hefty leaflet may result in collective cynical eye rolling by those hearing the news for the first time. It is the latest example in what appears to be an ever increasing trend of film studios getting their pound of flesh and exploiting the loyal fanbases of their most successful franchises. Other recent examples of successful franchises being milked like a cow at a corn flake banquet include The Hobbit trilogy and the film adaptation of Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games series.

There’s an argument, or at least the curtsey of a thinly veiled pretence, that more than one film is required in order to do the literature the films are based on a degree of justice and appease the book fans. However, in the case of Fantastic Beasts, that argument is about as redundant as Piers Morgan on an American News Network, because as of yet there is no story, no director, no producer or even actors tied to the project.

More on franchise mayhem: How to break the sequel ‘curse’

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The Harry Potter films alone generated over seven billion dollars worldwide. It would appear that in making so much money from the franchise, Warner Bros can’t even be arsed to maintain the charade that the Fantastic Beasts films will have any artistic credibility. Variety reported that Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced that Fantastic Beasts would become a part of the massive merchandising efforts and Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks. The announcement seemed to be addressed to the shareholders of Time Warner; the fans that had previously handed over their money in the billions (and inevitably will again) appeared to be little more than an afterthought.

Those that buy a ticket to see the Fantastic Beasts films now have the Warner Bros CEO guaranteeing them that what they will actually be watching is little more than a glorified advertisement for one of his theme park rides. On the surface, it could be seen as an utterly charmless attempt to extract cash from wallets. For a number of years now, film studios have been feverishly trawling through their back catalogues for films that can be remade, rebooted or given a sequel.

What was a children’s book published to raise money for the poor and vulnerable is now a Time Warner cash cow

The question is, if the three Fantastic Beast films are a raging success, will it act as the green light for absurd opportunism from major film studios, as they squeeze all they can out of their most popular and beloved franchises? To what depths will the studios sink? Will we see a Han Solo trilogy based on an IKEA assembly manual for a Star Wars bunk bed? Will Marvel will create an eight-part saga set in a machine-washable cotton dimension, based on the Spider-Man socks I received for Christmas? Or a Star Trek Broadway musical based on William Shatner’s spoken word album? (Actually, that could be brilliant.)

What started out as a book for children and published for the purposes of raising money for the poorest and most vulnerable in the world will now be chewed up and vomited back into our eyes as a Time Warner cash cow. It would be entirely forgiveable if, in the spirit in which the book was written, 80 per cent of the profits generated by the three films were donated to Comic Relief. But if we’re honest, the odds of that happening are on a par with Lenny Henry being a guest speaker at the next UKIP party conference.

 

The debate continues: Stretching franchises is choking studio films

 

All images: Warner Bros

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