We’re now officially living in the Harry Potter Expanded Universe with this week’s release of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. The movie is based on a short book written a few years ago by J.K. Rowling, but it wasn’t actually a story, instead presented simply as a guide book written by one Newt Scamander. The textbook is referenced briefly in one of the Harry Potter books but that’s about it. Now, though, there’s been an entire history given to Scamander and his travels and travails dealing with the magical creatures he was so fascinated in.
In this movie version, Scamander is played by Eddie Radmayne. Set in 1926, he’s come to New York on a research trip, trying to find new creatures to study and collect. But he runs right into a sequence of events that is way beyond him, including the rise of America’s own dark wizard and a fanatical movement called the “No-Majs,” a group of ordinary people seeking to expose and eliminate any magic-wielder. Things are complicated when Scamander’s attache case, which is filled with the beasts he carries with him, is opened and all those mystical and magical beasts are set loose in a big city that’s increasingly hostile to all things magical.
The first teaser poster certainly set the mood. Redmayne is in the center of the image, standing in his blue jacket as the sole pop of real color on an otherwise predominantly brown and yellow background, which looks like a train station of some sort. The scene sets up a big scale for the movie. At the bottom there’s the title treatment (which emphasizes “Fantastic Beasts” while just kind of tagging on “..and where to find them” because this *is* a crazy-long title. Just above that the line is drawn between this and the Harry Potter franchise by declaring the movie comes “From J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World,” which is also a nice nod to the sections of the theme parks that go by that name.
The second poster provides at least a little more information, or at least context. So Newt is seen standing in what’s left of an apartment that’s been blown apart so he’s looking out over the train line, suitcase in one hand and wand lit and ready in the other. The same copy appears at the top inviting us to this “new era” of the wizard franchise.
A special poster was released at San Diego Comic-Con showing Scamander in the middle of the design with headshots of the rest of the cast arrayed in the pillars around him. The whole thing has a very cool mid-century modern design to it, making it look like the kind of stained-glass windows you’d see in a major city’s railroad station. That helps set the time period of the story and the actual setting it established by the way the American flag is weaved into some of the designs at the top. This is a fun, playful and fairly artistic effort and really works well.
Up next was a series of character posters. Each one presented the character’s name and their quick bio or identifying character trait and showed them in their natural environment. These posters featured lots of items in the background and were scoured over by fans who were looking for any and every clue as to the story in the miscellania.
Finally, an IMAX-specific one-sheet arranged all the main characters in a Flying V formation, Scamander at the point with wand in hand and ready for action. The movie is, we’re promised” More fantastic in IMAX” and Rowling’s name appears no less than twice, once above and once below the title, in case you weren’t clear on where the studio was placing its bets.
The first teaser trailer – an “announcement” trailer – works to setup the basic plot of the movie, which is that a wizard has somehow set a bunch of magical creatures loose in New York.
That’s really about it. There’s very little footage since most of the runtime is actually given to visuals around the title treatment and title cards inviting us back to the world of Harry Potter, though that name is never mentioned outright. It’s and OK teaser and shouldn’t’ be judged more harshly than on that scale.
Another teaser trailer – this one a bit longer – debuted during the MTV Movie Awards. We meet Newt Scamander as he tries to enter New York City and hear, via voiceover, some of his backstory. He was expelled from Hogwarts years ago (over the objections of Dumbledore) and is now on some sort of mission.
There’s not much else about the story here as it’s mostly about expanding on the visuals of the movie and giving us a better sense of who Scamander is, though not of what he’s doing. There’s some hints as to the conflict – someone is clearly working against him or at least has Scamander in his sights – but that’s about it.
The first full trailer came at San Diego Comic-Con and sets up the premise of the movie, which is that Scamander is in New York and some of the mystical creatures found in his case have escaped. So he and others are out there looking for them, all the while trying to both protect the humans of the city and protect the creatures from those humans.
It presents a light but still occasionally scary movie that’s high on whimsy and wonder – seen mostly through the eyes of Scamander’s muggle roommate who becomes tangled up in the plot – as well as occasional thrills. While it has some new footage, the tone and feel of the trailer is the same as what’s come before.
One more full trailer hit in late September that’s filled with new footage and new takes on scenes we may have seen before. The first half is about setting up the new angle on the wizarding world the movie offers, showing off the beasts that Scamander was charged with transporting and establishing some of this world’s new rules. The second half is more action filled, setting up the conflict between Scamander and Graves and the latter’s desire for more power and to no longer be stuck in the shadows of the world.
Not bad. I find it interesting that there’s so much new footage included here. It’s almost as if the studio felt they needed one more big blast closer to the release date but were concerned that more of the same would begin to turn off fans or make them feel bored, like they had already seen all this. So to get the excitement back up to acceptable levels they threw in a lot of unseen material.
Online and Social
When you load the official website you get a recreation of the key art. There are links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the upper left of the page along with the #FantasticBeasts hashtag the studio wants everyone to use. Move over to the upper right corner and there’s a link to Rowling’s Pottermore site for even more of the Potter-verse. A rotating series of images that promote everything from Scamander’s appearance in LEGO Dimensions to the trailer to the Google promotion (more on that later) and more. Then in the lower left there’s a graphic promoting the movie’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes score long with a rotating series of positive critics’ quotes.
Finally moving up to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Story,” which has a pretty in-depth write-up of the premise and plot along with the talent involved. Then there’s the “Gallery” that has a number of stills as well as one or two behind-the-scenes shots showing director David Yates working with the cast. “Videos” has all the trailers and other fan-centric videos that have been released.
The site then moves into offering more background on the story. First is “The Beasts,” which has GIFs of all the creatures that everyone will be watching on-screen that can shared via social networks or downloaded. Then “Characters” has write-ups of all the main characters as well as their job descriptions or character traits. “Magic in North America” has videos that explore some of the backstory of the movie, including the history of North American magic and more, all of which have prompts to read more of the story at Pottermore.
Commerce is next, with links to the “Shop,” “Tickets & Showtimes” and the “Soundtrack.”
“Magical Maps” is powered by Google and lets you explore some of the buildings and other locations to find out more. Finally, the “Video Creator” lets you upload a video or photo and add some magical elements to it before sharing it on your social network of choice.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There were a ton of TV spots like this one run that tries to encapsulate the story of Scamander’s beasts being set loose in New York City and the dark forces that might be working against him.
The movie received plenty of social network advertising as well, with promoted posts that used video popping up pretty regularly. Warner Bros. also used the movie as a way to become the first studio to buy into Twitter’s Promoted Stickers ad unit and also used Promoted Hashtags that turned specific hashtagged words into emoji on the network. Further Twitter integration allowed people to type in special commands to unlock clips.
Google worked with the studio on a number of promotions ranging from integration with Google Maps that displayed locations from the movie and allowed people to explore 1926 New York City to integration with the “OK Google” search feature on Android devices and stickers on Google’s newly-launched Allo messaging. Special deals were also available through Amazon to those who typed certain spells into the search bar on the site.
Media and Publicity
Outside of casting news and such, the publicity for the movie really kicked off with a cover story in EW that included first look photos and more details about it. The movie got some help storywise from the continued adventures Rowling was publishing, which were revealed to lead directly into the events of the movie.
A teased VidCon promotion was centered around an event encouraging YouTube creators to submit questions that were answered during a panel with the stars and filmmakers.
At San Diego Comic-Con there was a lot of activity around the movie, ranging from a Q&A with director David Yates where he talked about working with Rowling, returning to the Potter franchise and more to a cast and crew panel where Redmayne handed out wands to fans and lots more.
Even before the first movie was released the studio announced a date and creative team for the sequel, coming two years out.
Later on a first look at Ezra Miller’s character was released. That was part of a big cover story in Entertainment Weekly that showed off more stills from the movie and provided a bit more in terms of story detail. The cast would often talk about how amazing it was to join the world of Harry Potter and what they were most looking forward to as part of their characters.
In mid-October it was revealed this was the first of a planned five-movie series, which may set a new gold standard in putting the cart before the horse. That was just the first of the eyebrow-raising revelations, though, as it was soon revealed Johnny Depp had a role not only in this movie but also in its potential sequels. Some backlash understandably resulted from that since Depp has been accused of domestic violence AND has underperformed at the box-office pretty consistently in recent years, so what he’s doing here was questioned by many, though it was of course defended by Yates.
Rowling regularly talked about the origins of the story, how she approached her first outing as a screenwriter and more in interviews like this, where she also talked about the timeliness of movie’s themes.
The main theme of the campaign is, obviously, that Warner Bros. is expanding the Harry Potter world. What comes through clearly is that you’re supposed to bring over all the good feelings you have from that franchise to this new one. Everything has been about making sure the movie is positioned *not* as an original notion but as part of Rowling’s “Wizarding World.”
Despite that overt effort being made there is quite a lot to like in the campaign, even if there’s so little focus being put on the story. Instead it’s all about the spectacle and people are being pulled in to see all the magical craziness that’s on display. The story is secondary here to Scamander’s adventures and the cast of creatures that he’s after. On that front it works amazingly well and there seems to be some palpable anticipation for it, which means the campaign has worked.