The Problem with Prequels: A response to The Crimes of Grindelwald
I grew up with the Harry Potter books and movies, and for a long time, as someone who loves to write, considered Rowling one of my inspirations. There are lots of things she does well, and credit is earned where credit is due. However, it seems that recently she has been rubbing a lot of her fans the wrong way. Although there are several reasons for this, the one I’m focusing on stems from a trap into which many creative individuals have fallen: making bad prequels. (I should mention, this will involve spoilers for the Fantastic Beasts movies.)
Understandably, when it was announced that there was to be a movie based in the Harry Potter universe, a lot of people were excited, myself included. And I genuinely enjoyed it. Even though it involves a storyline brought up in the Harry Potter books, it was separate enough from the original series to feel like its own story. There was some fan service, but just enough so as to not be gimmicky. We got to see different magical creatures adapted to film that had been excluded from the original movies, a nod to those who had read the books, without it feeling forced or disingenuous. Unfortunately, the second installment to this movie franchise is a different story.
In order to illustrate common problems associated with prequels, I will draw a parallel with my favourite example of a bad prequel: The Hobbit movies. Although not based on a book written as a prequel, the movies fit into this category largely because if The Lord of the Rings movies hadn’t been so successful, they would have never been made. What originated as an episodic, adventure-based children’s book was turned into a three part high-fantasy epic packed with characters and references to the original trilogy, for no better reason than fan service. This is not to say that fan service is inherently bad, but when it undermines the plot and integrity of the piece of work in which it appears, it feels as though the artistic minds behind the project don’t trust their work to hold up without constantly connecting it to the original storyline.
The Crimes of Grindelwald had a very similar flavour, as it rides on the coattails of the successful Harry Potter franchise and contains a lot of the same problems as The Hobbit movies. The appearance of Nicolas Flamel was exclusively fan service, and added nothing to the plot, much like Legolas in The Hobbit. And then there’s Nagini. The introduction of her character undermines the three Harry Potter books in which she appears, because there was never any indication to the reader that this was more than just a snake. This was never a character we were meant to sympathize with, and the reader is supposed to feel jubilant when she is killed. The humanization of her character works against this, and changes the reading of the original books.
There are other references and name-drops throughout the movie. There were some that didn’t raise any issues, but then there was the McGonagall cameo, which blatantly contradicted the timeline laid out by the original novels. As in she wouldn’t have been born yet, let alone teaching. I took to the internet to see what other people thought about this plot hole, and while some people theorize that it could have been her mother, this goes against who she is credited as in the movie, and also what we know about her family based on what Rowling has told us. Some other people have brought up other suggestions, such as time travel. While usually I’m all for creative fan theories, to me it becomes disappointing when people create these theories to compensate for lazy writing on the author’s part. I don’t blame people for assuming that there’s a clever explanation; Rowling is a clever writer. But the McGonagall plot hole appears among several continuity issues, and other things which seem extremely unlikely based on what we know about the universe.
These problems with the movie wouldn’t bother me if they only impacted the movie, but once you know something it’s hard to pretend otherwise. It’s hard to hold separate the information given by this movie that dampens the enjoyment of the original series. This illustrates what results from a bad prequel, the undermining of the works from which it is based. It is not just disappointing because I was looking forward to this movie and felt let down. It’s disappointing because it undermines a series that was a huge part of my childhood. It would be untrue to say that it has been ruined for me. I still enjoy The Lord of the Rings and I’ll still enjoy Harry Potter all the same. It’s a disappointment because I believe that if this movie didn’t fall into patterns so common of prequels, which the first movie avoided, it could have been a great stand alone series which, while complementing the Harry Potter stories, doesn’t take it over.