The Crimes of Grindelwald (Or The Crimes of Big Budget Movies)
Ok, so this is a little bit of a departure from what I usually write about but I really wanted to talk a bit about, not only the new Wizarding World film, but also other issues with mainstream cinema at the moment in general.
This is a NO SPOILER article as it is not strictly a review, more of an essay – a ramble essay if you will – on the issues The Crimes of Grindelwald is complicit with along with many other films. If you want to read articles more focused on the film in detail or the problematic elements of JK Rowling’s writing in it and her social media commentary at the moment I would take a look at the articles I will be linking at the end of this piece. Other people have already said a lot of what needs to be said better than I can. This is very much my own take on the problems with cinema in general using this film as my major example.
I will briefly touch on my own personal thoughts and feelings about the Jk Rowling shaped elephant in the room. I spent a long time trying to decide if I was going to see The Crimes of Grindelwald, despite having loved the Harry Potter books since I was a kid, in fact I would literally go so far as to say those books changed my life. They forced me to overcome my dyslexia as I was so desperate to know what happened next and caused me to pursue my own career as writer, and that is something I will always love them for.
However, the recent, and continuing comments and statements from JK Rowling herself that are becoming more and more problematic, the casting of known abuser Johnny Depp in a leading role in this film and the problematic storylines I was seeing being reported by fans about certain plot lines in the film (no spoilers I promise) I honestly felt so conflicted by this franchise I loved. In the end I decided to see it for a myriad of personal reasons that I will not go into, but also because I had such a connection to this world as a child that I almost had to give it one last ditch attempt. Basically, I had to know for myself.
Unfortunately all of things I’ve said that were already tainting the film stuck with me, and the film itself, though visually impressive in many ways and Newt Scamander being a lovely, wonderful character, who deserves so much better than these films, was very disappointing. (Jude Law is also great but goddamn let Dumbledore by gay! Stop trying to have it both ways, this ain’t a Schrodinger experiment.)
Something that I have always loved about the original Harry Potter books was the plotting. You are carried through each set story on a wave, being given all the information you need, with levity and humour lightening the darker parts of the stories, the characters growing amongst the roots of the plot lines but not being overwhelmed by it or being forced into a place they should not be for the sake of it.
When it came to The Crimes of Grindelwald, the plot didn’t seem to know what it was, lost in some strange idea of what it could be, and despite some lovely character moments, it never really found itself. The film was trying too hard to get everyone from A to B rather than illuminating to audience why this needed to happen, what the point in half the characters actually was, why these people were important other than because “we say so” or any real back story at all. Even having watched the first one very recently I could not have told you why things suddenly happened in this film or how they were related. It was very much telling rather than showing, and this is, I think, the major problem with not only this film but many franchise films at the moment. It just so happens that this is the film that lead me to this realisation (no, that’s a lie, Infinity War did that but that film already wasted two and half hours of my life I wasn’t going to give it more.)
Now, I accept that you cannot always show what is happening rather than telling people some backstory, but when you attempting to create large, franchise films you have a lot more time and space where you can actually build this up. The problem almost always lies in wanting to tell too much story at once, mostly because it is assumed that the audience will get bored if you don’t throw action at the at all times, and don’t keep the pace up. This may or may not be true, but it has gotten so much into the nature of mainstream cinema that this need for running around and dramatic things happening every second has taken precedence over everything else.
Taking The Crimes of Grindelwald for an example, there are several plots that could, in all fairness, have been interesting but they were pushed to the side in favour of large action piece rather than taking one of those threads and building it up, not only in this film, but the previous one as well. Others, that were introduced in this film, were in fact completely unnecessary, and seemed to be there purely to add more drama to proceedings and sacrificed characters to their hungry need for cheap shocks and, let’s be honest, man pain. To create characters, female ones especially, just so they can be used to make you feel sorry for your male leads is shoddy, old fashioned and honestly insulting to all the girls Hermione Granger inspired. Shame on you.
This overuse of plot lines confuses the main story and dilutes what could have been an interesting film. It’s the same with Infinity War, though the biggest problem there is that even with so many plots and characters to play with not one of them was actually interesting or enticing. Such a shame after Black Panther and Thor Ragnarok had been so good…sigh…ok, ok, I promised myself I wasn’t going to go into this, but the point still stands. This issue of the actual story being told well, is not just a problem of The Crimes of Grindelwald, it is a problem in many, MANY big blockbuster films. The DC films have, the Marvel films have it, even the Star Wars film struggle with it at points. They fail to see that simply moving your character piece from A to B with some explosions and special effects in the middle is not a story.
And, as much as I am sorry to say it, this is the fault of large scale franchise films. They are being treated like a series, rather than stand alone stories with an overarching plot that ties them together. The Marvel films are slightly better at this, as each set of characters exist in their own space, but they struggle even more with defining the different characters and plot lines once they are brought together, often disregarding the separate stories totally in favour of the overarching one rather than using them to compliment it. Again, not getting into Infinity War. Definitely not. God, two and half hours of my life. Wasted.
We are being overrun by endless series that are seemingly endless in themselves. I am just as guilty of enjoying things like Game of Thrones or Star Wars (y’all know how I feel about Star Wars) and the executives in these big companies see it as a way to keep people coming back and keep them spending money. With this infestation of large scale film and TV series being created, the ability to see plot and character as subtle, fragile things that can be so easily broken or diluted to nothingness is being forgotten. Characters are being seen as nothing more than little toys to move around within the story to give it some sort of shape, rather than being the way that audience really connects with the story. Character is how you draw emotion from an audience, how you make them understand, how to push them to think harder, if you don’t make them care then the plot is nothing. And if your plot does not allow the audience time to connect with those characters, it will never matter how well they are written because you have been thrown into the next scene before you can find an emotional point of contact with the characters.
A lot of the problem lies in the fact that audiences are being underestimated, seen as screen monkeys who are drooling for content, no matter what it is. That we will so impressed by pretty lights and flashing images that the rest of the story is not important. Corporate ideas are dehumanising audiences and therefore see no reason why they should need human connection in the media they consume. But this cannot last. The films that have made a lasting impact in these large franchises are those that have been given room to breathe, and shown their audience something they relate to, no matter who they are. Wonder Woman and Black Panther (I could talk about this film all day) spent time building their world, their simple, yes simple, stories with morals and social quadries that we as an audience were able to connect with and reflect on whether we were the direct group these were aimed at or not, and then we have the characters. Such wonderful, human, flawed characters who you could almost touch and you could very much understand and believe in. They did not patronise their audience with simplicity, but neither did they throw in everything and the kitchen sink. This is why they work as films in a wider franchise and as films that stand alone. Actually, the first Fantastic Beasts film does this as well.
Cinema is no longer being seen as a medium to tell stories for the wonderful sake of doing so, but more just another way to take money from the mindless masses. And we are letting it happen. I let my love for Harry Potter override my gut feeling that this film wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be, and the companies know that. They know that by pushing out more sub-par stuff that is somehow part of a story we already love they won’t have to work hard to actually find good writers and directors with passion, or bother to reign in writers like JK Rowling who need a little more advice and control (hello Star Wars prequels) when it comes to not running away with themselves. Specially when running away with themselves leads to some REALLY bad plot choices.
It’s a shame is what I’m saying. There is so much out that there that could be good. Franchise films could be amazing, but profit is put over passion and we audience suffers. We learn to accept that we will be disappointed and are rarely shown that this is not the case.
I will be posting looks on both of these, and chatting about life as a nonbinary person as well as all this other rubbish I like to talk about. Oh and robots.
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If you want more please check out my last articles:
- An Examination of Horror (Or Why Am I Fascinated by Something so Scary!)
- The Chap Olympiad: The Home of Sartorial Prowess
- The Town of Light: A Different Look into Mental Health in Horror
- And Now For Something Completely Different (Video Game Characters and the Importance of Doing Research)
- Strange the Way Things Turn Out (Ten Years Since Straight Out Of Surrey)
- Cute and Casual (Don’t Judge a Nonbinary Person by Their Cover)
- The Doctor’s New Clothes
Written by Holly Rose Swinyard