Last night I saw the new wizarding world film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I really enjoyed it. More so than I enjoyed watching any of the Harry Potter films.
Despite my best efforts - and an established proclivity for broad popcorn entertainment - I've never been able to fully embrace the Potter series. I've struggled to determine exactly why the films never gelled for me, but they always seemed so leaden and literal and perpetually devoid of surprises. And far too overstuffed with prolonged scenes involving large groups of young people clapping.
Fantastic Beasts, perhaps just by mere virtue of it being something of an unknown quantity - that is, an original screenplay by JK Rowling as opposed to a direct adaptation of a well-established story - carried me along with a lot more ease.
It's not without its faults, but it offered up something ever-so-slightly new in what is otherwise an overly familiar world. Also, no clapping scenes.
As much as I enjoyed watching the film, something cast a considerable pall over my experience of taking it in: the knowledge that it is the first of five intended films in a new franchise.
Fantastic Beasts was originally announced as a trilogy, which seemed pretty reasonable, considering the insatiable appetite for all things Rowling, but that was subsequently expanded to five films. Okay then.
This isn't surprising or rare of course - franchise-building is the new norm. But it's one of the most depressing aspects of the corporatisation of the movie world, especially when a franchise reaches this far ahead. It transforms a potentially exciting event movie into an obligation. It works hard to quash the notion that a story is being told because it needs to be told, but rather exists for depressingly business-like reasons only. It threatens to turn joy into homework.
Movies have of course always been a business, but it's part of Hollywood's job to project the illusion that their products exist for the joy of entertainment. The demands of the studios' corporate parents make this illusion harder and harder to maintain.
There's nothing inherently wrong about there being five Fantastic Beasts movies, but knowing they're already in the planning stages removes some of the magic, so to speak, of experiencing the first one. And it feels like the only reason we know is because it makes the Warner Bros. financial statements look good for the foreseeable future.
Would it really have killed them just to keep it to themselves that they had the next dozen or so years of our lives planned out? Although there is a ravenous fan base already in place for all five films, I would contend that more Potter-heads rolled their eyes than clapped for delight when they announced there would be five freaking movies.
Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) reach further ahead with their franchise planning than perhaps anyone else and lead the charge with this kind of filmmaking. But they've been better than everyone else at maintaining the notion of the storytelling driving the franchise, rather than the other way round.
I'll go see Fantastic Beasts and Where 2 Find Them: Full Throttle when it is released in 2018. But even though I liked the first film enough to warrant my interest in what happens next, the knowledge that there will be three films after the sequel has rendered the prospect considerably less exciting.