Is Brand Extension a Problem in Entertainment?

I’ll answer the question posed in the title right now: it honestly depends. With several exceptions, the most anticipated films set to come out in the next few years are associated with Marvel, Star Wars, DC, and Transformers. Several of these movies have been fantastic triumphs that explore the human condition in a way few popular movies have managed to since. Others are simply an excuse to watch things explode on a big screen. Now the Harry Potter universe joins their ranks.

The question about brand extension is especially relevant to Harry Potter, given that very few people asked for this specific movie. When The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came out, I assumed the film industry was finished with the Wizarding World for some time. The movies had reached the end of the books. The final scene at Platform nine and three quarters played out almost exactly the way I envisioned it when I read it, right down to the music.

It was a fantastic ending to a record-breaking series, which begs a question: Why make a movie about a completely unknown character set in the same universe who loses a bunch of animals in 1920s New York? I’ll answer that after I talk about the plot.

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***Spoiler Alert***

It turns out the ‘20s was a terrifying time for witches and wizards everywhere. The shadow of Gellert Grindelwald, the most powerful dark wizard at the time, lurks in the backdrop as havoc is wreaked around the world, and now, in 1927, strange and mysterious things are happening in New York City.

We follow two interwoven stories throughout the movie. The first is of Newt Scamander, the Wizarding equivalent of Charles Darwin, who has stopped briefly in New York towards the end of extensive travels around the world. However,  a mix-up with Jacob (a No-Mag, the American term for a muggle) leads to Scamander’s false arrest by ex-auror Tina Goldstein, the loss of his case and even more of his creatures. With the American wizard’s strict government aware of his unregistered presence, Scamander, Tina, her sister Queenie, and Jacob must avoid them to recover his specimens before they expose the existence of witches and wizards.

Meanwhile, Percival Graves, Auror and Director of Magical Security, is tracking down the source of magical destruction around the city. He believes that Credence, a teenage orphan associated with a witch-hunting propaganda cult, has information about an Obscurus, a powerful parasite that manifests itself in young witches and wizards who repress their abilities. After escalating incidents leads to several deaths, Graves gives up on Credence’s abilities and blames Scamander for the incident, only to learn shortly after that Credence is the Obscurus. In a fit of rage, Credence unleashes the Obscurus and terrorizes the city.

Scamander and Graves confront each other indirectly over Credence. Scamander and Tina work together to calm him down, believing that Scamander can remove the Obscurus from Credence. Graves, however, attempts to convince Credence that he can help him more than Scamander. It all comes to naught, however, as every member of magical law enforcement in New York descend upon Credence, destroying him.

When Graves declares his true intention of releasing the Obscurus to expose the magical world, Scamander figures out Graves isn’t who he says he is. With a quick cast of ‘revelio’ and assistance from one of his creatures, Graves’ disguise disappears, revealing the dark Grindelwald in his place. With Grindelwald under arrest, Scamander uses his creatures to erase the incident of the Obscurus from the minds of the No-Mag population, including, to Queenie’s dismay, Jacob, and leaves for London.

***Spoilers Over***

If the lengthy description didn’t give it away, this is a busy movie, and there are minor plot threads I didn’t even bother touching. It’s setting up a franchise and introducing us to unfamiliar aspects of a beloved universe with swaths of adoring and unforgiving fans. Which brings me back to a question posed earlier: of all the topics in the Wizarding World, why this one?

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As it turns out, this spinoff is more authentic than any of the other Harry Potter films. We’ve never met any of these characters before. There’s no opportunity to say ‘that’s not how he was in the books’ or ‘it was better in the books.’ The originality makes it much easier to lose yourself in the 1920s aesthetic and enjoy Scamander stammering awkwardly as the introverted explorer slowly learns to open up or marvel at Graves’ hypnotic focus as he executes his duties with precision.

The lessons this story teaches are fairly obvious ones, but the stories of these characters makes the lessons so resonant. The controlling nature of the wizarding government draws some parallels to the discussions about  government control of its citizens, keeping Queenie and Jacob apart from a burgeoning attraction that pains them throughout the film. The Obscurus sends a blatant message about the risks of hiding your true self, and you can see through Credence’s toxic circumstances why someone could so willingly repress who he or she really is (and the dangers of doing so).

The biggest reason this movie works so well is because of the time period. Not only does this movie tell a fairly succinct story in and of itself, the reveal of Graves being Grindelwald in disguise opens up a trove of untold history in the Wizarding World. After all, Grindelwald was touted as the most powerful dark wizard of modern times before Voldemort rose to power. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, since we know so little about this period of Wizarding history.

I went into this movie with a lot of skepticism. No one I knew asked for a movie about an obscure author of an in-universe textbook. It seemed like a push from Warner Brothers to milk more money out of the Harry Potter name, even if JK Rowling, one of the most authentic and generous women in the entertainment industry, wrote the screenplay. Its deeply constructed world and slightly less deep emotional well made the film far more enjoyable than I anticipated. Even though spinoffs and brand extension are a plague to many moviegoers out there, Fantastic Beasts is a fine example of  how to do it properly.

 

If you’ve seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, let me know what your thoughts are. Share if you liked it!

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!

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A Different Marvel Hero

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Marvel has exploded into the mainstream culture since the turn of the century. They didn’t invent the superhero, but they created iconic, instantly recognizable characters: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Daredevil…the list goes on.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe being as popular as it is, Marvel has gained the leverage to bring less popular characters to life, such as Jessica Jones on Netflix, the no-nonesense, tough talking street-level hero. I had certainly never heard of her, but after the TV show came out last year I was on the hunt for the Alias Comics the show is based on. Last week at the library, I struck gold!

***Spoilers Ahead***

Alias Volume 2 follows Jessica well into her private investigation career, taking on a case in a rural town in New York. A girl has gone missing, and the mother is desperate to know what happened.

With rumors flying through the town about Jessica’s supposed abilities and the possibility that the missing girl is a mutant, Jessica struggles to sift through the misinformation and small-town gossip to find the girl. Through all of this, Jessica reminisces on her former life as a superhero.

***Spoilers Over***

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Beyond these slight spoilers, I won’t say anything else. Unlike most comic stories, Alias takes a darker approach to comics. It’s not glossy and pretty. The lines are rougher, the colors more muted. Curse words aren’t *%&$ing censored. Jessica is (mostly) dressed down as opposed to hypersexualized like most women in comics. There is a scene of her previous life that’s drawn in the more popular flashy comic-book style, which only goes to show how drastically Jessica’s life has changed.

They also manage to tackle the issues of diversity and acceptance in regards to mutants. This is a fairly common topic in superhero comics, but it was interesting to watch regular people in a small town address the issue candidly instead of politicians or superheroes discussing them. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

For fans of the TV show, the influences are readily apparent. Shades of purple give the comic a distinct tone, much like the show. When I read Jessica Jones, I hear it in the voice of the actress playing her in my head. Even though most of the comic doesn’t take place in the Big Apple, the few scenes we get show a grittier, slower city.

Honestly, it’s one of those comics you have to read to fully appreciate. I’m glad I picked it up.

 

If you’ve read Alias Volume 2: Come Home, Rebeca, let me know what your thoughts are.

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!

The Catcher in the Rye

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I’m breaking one of my rules, because this isn’t a new book for me. It’s one of my favorite required readings in high school. Something about the way it’s written and the ending really resonated with me when I first read it, and I decided to reread it for the first time since high school.

For those of you who may not know, The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic by J.D. Salinger. He manages to capture the teenage lingo of the 1950s perfectly while telling a captivating tale. It’s a relatively simple story about an unmotivated boarding school student, Holden Caulfield, who follows his every whim and emotion while exploring New York City just before schools let out for Christmas vacation. As he wanders about the city, Salinger takes on an in-depth tour of Caulfield’s mind and emotions, which is where the true story lies.

Holden sees the truth in people. Sure, they may be great, but everyone’s got that one thing that just knocks them down a few pegs in his eyes. He can spot those little flaws a mile away, the little things that make them a lesser individual for it. He’s not afraid to express his distaste, either. Over half of the story is tangled in these rambling, winding thoughts about his family, his old classmates, the people he’s around. He describes the people he interacts with with fleeting simplicity, yet he’s so confident in his description that you can’t help but see what he sees, clear as day. There are only two people he manages to describe without any hint of fault, but I won’t spoil that. You’ll just have to read the book and see for yourself.

The arrogance and disdain he holds towards other people would be readily apparent to anyone Holden interacts with. However, Salinger writes The Catcher in the Rye in Holden’s perspective, completely in first person. That’s where the brilliance of this book shines for me. Up until that point in my life, I had never read any books with such a unique voice.

Plenty of authors write from a first-person point of view, such as D.J. MacHale’s young adult series, The Pendragon Adventure. The narrator tells the story from his level-headed perspective, with actions and purpose driving the plot forward as opposed to emotion. If someone magically dropped me into that same story, I would see what the narrator sees. There’s little reason not to trust the narrator.

Salinger, however, writes Holden’s story with every single raw emotion infused into the narrative. Every observation, every action, every word is laced with his jaded personality. I would not see the same things as Holden sees in the same situation. That’s the hold this story has over me: until I read it, I had never thought the narrator could be untrustworthy. I had never read a book where the narrator could be so warped that he or she may not exactly see thing the way they really are, and that shocked me. To this day, I still find Salinger’s work brilliant.

The other big thing about this story that sticks with me is how different the ending is compared to most other books I had read before, even literary classics. Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play. Jay Gatsby dies unceremoniously and unremembered. Something big and dramatic happens at the end of every Harry Potter book. The Catcher in the Rye doesn’t do that. I won’t give anything away, if you somehow haven’t read the book. I’ll just say it taught me that a story doesn’t have to end in some big, obvious climax.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, this novel is a classic that most Americans read in high school. It’s the coming-of-age story of a fully realized young man whose name is synonymous with teenage angst. Hell, people still pay homage to it in other books, tv stories, and video games, from Holden Caulfield’s name to the red hunting hat he sports. If you’re looking for something brilliant and moving, give this piece a read. You won’t regret it.

 

If you’ve read The Catcher in the Rye, let me know what your thoughts are.

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!