“I don’t think I even want to go to Harry Potter World anymore” were Aly’s first words after we finished watching our review copy of the DVD / Blu-ray release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
On our second date years ago, Aly told me about her days as a teenager reading and writing fan-fiction, much of which existed in the Harry Potter Universe (now called the Wizarding World). She’s not unique in that pastime, but it made me feel more comfortable with her because I was also a pre-teen who loved the books as they were released and spent a lot of the mid-2000s in the nascent social networks of MySpace and LiveJournal.
I’m always fascinated by the broad worlds created by fans of serialized stories during the long waits between books. Fellow film critic Richard Propes is reading the Harry Potter novels for the first time right now and experiencing their genuine quality. It’s an exciting vicarious experience, but it would be hard for me to describe to him the way different characters came to mean so much to fans outside of J.K. Rowling’s narrative arc.
Aly would’ve reviewed Grindelwald, but she birthed our first son on Monday and wasn’t up to it. When I reviewed the film last autumn here, I was pretty optimistic:
“Unlike some critics I do not believe this is a mortal wound for the Harry Potter franchise as a whole. It will likely be the lowest box-office draw and garner the most criticism, but the franchise still supports a goddamn theme park: It has the leeway to right itself.”
I did not anticipate Aly’s reaction to the movie would be such a direct slash at the franchise’s current lifeblood. Between her and several other very big Harry Potter fans in my life seeing it and feeling burnt, it got me thinking.
The Wizarding World is a living, breathing behemoth of fan culture that can attribute a lot of its success to groups of fans who feel ownership over the franchise because of what it meant to them growing up. I’m not sure Grindelwald is a series of stories crafted for that group of people, which prompts the question: What is the audience for this movie? I’m not sure whether Rowling is even sure why she’s telling the story of Newt Scamander, a character defined solely by Eddie Redmayne’s nervous tics. The franchise is called the Wizarding World, but the only actual “world” within these stories is Hogwarts — the social crucible where a group of young people finds its place in a mysterious world. It is adolescence. The “world” of Harry Potter is tactile to the reader because Harry, Ron, Hermione, et. al experience it so viscerally in adventures that complement their maturation into adulthood. Nothing in Grindelwald is half that focused. It’s all just silly words, Victorian costumes, Johnny Depp mugging.
The young readers who grew up so invested in expressing their own teenage troubles by writing stories about the characters from Rowling’s book have nothing to latch onto here because they’re adults — some, in our case, now parents — who know why Harry Potter was so important to them in their youth but can’t see adulthood reflected in this universe. I am sure the books will always persist in their power for new readers young and old. But maybe in the long run, this owl is cooked.
- Documentaries: J.K. Rowling: A World Revealed; Wizards on Screen, Fans in Real Life; Distinctly Dumbledore.
- Deleted sequences.
- Several smaller segments devoted to specific parts of production.
Overall, they’re worthwhile if you enjoyed the film, but not much hoped-for insight as to the franchise’s interior philosophy going forward.