BySam Cooper, writer at
Spastic writer and a lover of all things with the word "espresso" in the title.
Sam Cooper

Most naughty words come with four letters, but there's a new one with fifteen: Book Adaptations. They're everywhere in the movie world, titles spilling across release schedules and posters muddying the walls of movie theaters. They're spat from the mouths of critics and thrown around common conversation like that one bruised apple nobody wants to eat.

Hold up. Where did this reputation come from? Didn't book adaptations give us some of the most popular young adult movies like , inspire the creation of the groundbreaking Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even bring us the most scientifically clever film of 2016, Arrival? Surely they don't deserve to be pushed under a bus.

Book adaptations may have been the catalyst for some of the most influential movies of the past decade, but they have their fair share of problems. The release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shines a light on some of the mud. While the Harry Potter movies are based off the original novels, Fantastic Beasts is an all-new screenplay from , and the differences between the two uncover the ways book adaptations tend to crash and burn.

Busting Out The Seams: Plot Problems

The Harry Potter books are massive, rich in character development, and packed with magical world building. Most of them are twice the length of an average novel, which means shrinking them down to movie size is a feat not even the most skilled Time Lords could accomplish. Yes, the Harry Potter movies are cherished pieces of cinema, but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes they seem like an overstuffed stocking hanging from your mantle — filled with good things, but destined to fall. By nixing the translation process, Fantastic Beasts fixes this problem.

Briefcases can't contain everything. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]
Briefcases can't contain everything. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]

J.K. Rowling wrote with a smaller set of story events. It fills two hours nicely, but doesn't pack too many details into one space. The pacing of the movie flows naturally. Newt's wild adventures have time to build humor (the scene with the Erumpent, though), and the impressively dark themes surrounding Credence's character arc are brought to life with plenty of depth and suspense. The Harry Potter movies often struggled to transition between scenes, but thanks to J.K. Rowling's script, Fantastic Beasts moves like a Thunderbird and streaks across the sky.

Actors & Actresses And Expectations

Books are special because every reader imagines the story in their own unique way. When it comes to movies, however, all of those expectations are channeled into one representation. That's why we get upset over things like playing Grindelwald. Expectations ruin enjoyment. But even though Fantastic Beasts brings back old characters, the entire host of new ones is enough to mend the wound.

Who wouldn't want to play Newt? 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]
Who wouldn't want to play Newt? 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]

Fantastic Beasts works with a leading cast of characters that have never appeared in any Harry Potter books or movies. This comes with two important benefits. One, expectations are slim (if not completely nonexistent) and so we can all discover these single representations together. The second benefit comes from the fact that actors have more artistic liberties with newly written stories. There's no need to bend themselves to fit future story events, because those story events don't even exist yet. We all know had a hell of a fun time playing Newt, but would he have had the same experience if the roar of a million fans was echoing in his skull?

World Design: Framing And Fleshing Out 'Fantastic Beasts'

If there's one aspect of the Harry Potter movies that disappoints even the most accepting fans, its the fact that all of J.K. Rowling's colorful world doesn't fit in the cinematic frame. Each of the films did a great job bringing the best elements to life, but how can anyone be truly satisfied when they know they're only getting half the picture? Fantastic Beasts, however, doesn't trim the hedges of its story world.

You can't go wrong with a magical speakeasy. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]
You can't go wrong with a magical speakeasy. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]

New York City never looked so snazzy. Fantastic Beasts builds its satisfying, 1920s environment by adding a limitation to the creation process. While writing movie scripts, you're forced to imagine everything cropped into the cinemascope format, view scenes from one angle at a time, and think about how film lighting will change the look of the environment. They say people are more creative when they're forced to work in a box, but in the case of Fantastic Beasts, it's more of a wide rectangle.

Setting Up For Sequels

The Harry Potter books were written far before their film counterparts. The same goes for and the withering series. Sure, the time lets stories grow and mature, but it also brings one unpredictable dish to the table: knowledge. Readers know exactly what will happen next. The suspense of a cliffhanger banks mostly off excitement for the next movie, not the soul-destroying feeling of uncertainty that films like The Empire Strikes Back inflicted in 1980.

Hopefully the Niffler will return in the sequels. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]
Hopefully the Niffler will return in the sequels. 'Fantastic Beasts' [Credit: Warner Brothers]

How does Fantastic Beasts fix this? By being itself, of course. As an entirely original series, Fantastic Beasts has the potential to instill audience-wide unease, intrigue, and longing. Already, fans are predicting what will happen in the upcoming films. Harry Potter's fan base ensured that each installment would be a success, but the sheer newness of Fantastic Beasts will bring back the high-impact storytelling most movies have lost. We have J.K. Rowling and her stunning script to thank.

Novels have every right to be put to screen, but sometimes the adaptation process is messier than anyone expected. Some say it's a necessary evil. Some write-off book adaptations as useless, thin interpretations of greater stories. Whatever you think, book adaptations have shown us where we can improve, from smoothing out the pacing to building story worlds that seem more complete. Fantastic Beasts takes these lessons to heart and runs with them, meaning nobody has to get their mouth washed out with soap.

No naughty words in this movie.

What do you think: Is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a catch for the Harry Potter universe, or a fumble?

Here is another burning question that you can chew over after seeing Fantastic Beasts:

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