LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK: The gates to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world are set to re-open with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The jury is out on whether the five-movie spinoff will conjure up the entertainment magic of “Harry Potter.”With a screenplay penned by Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts” has no best-selling books to lean on. It will test whether the young audience that drove eight Potter films to gross $7 billion worldwide will turn out for a film set 70 years before Harry Potter entered Hogwarts.
Set in New York City in 1926, the film holds big potential. If successful, it could dramatically expand the Potter brand of books, toys, costumes and theme parks as Rowling extends a magical world previously confined to the U.K.
“Spin-offs are usually rip-offs,” noted Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, “but ... with J.K. Rowling attached, I think it’s a great idea.”
Ten days ahead of release, with no reviews yet, analysts predict a $75 – $100 million opening weekend in North America – about half the gross for the last Potter movie.
“Fantastic Beasts” began life in 2001 as a slim textbook, belonging to Harry Potter, listing imaginary creatures and illustrated with basic pen and ink drawings.
When Warner Bros approached Rowling about adapting it for cinema, she came up with a story that centers on Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a “magizoologist” whose case full of creatures escapes.
Longtime Potter producer David Heyman and director David Yates welcomed the new story.
“Sure, you don’t have the security of having 150 million people having read the books,” Heyman said, “but the advantage of people not knowing the story, not being upset when something is left out, is a gift.”
Rowling has said the four future films will trace the rise of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald – who duelled beloved Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in 1945.
“Fantastic Beasts” showcases Rowling’s imagination, from typewriters tapping away by themselves to computer-generated creatures like the mischievous Niffler or the rhinoceros-like Erumpent.
The darker storyline and a cast of little-known actors playing adult characters could limit its appeal to families. “You don’t need big movie stars if you have J.K. Rowling,” Yates said. “Her stories are the star.”