Notes from the Kraken: November 20th 2016

In All, Notes by David

Welcome again to We Have Always Live the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Here in the Notes we’ll show you this week’s posting schedule, but first here are some thoughts.

Apparently, you find them in about 20 minutes.

Apparently, you find them in about 20 minutes.

The Harry Potter Universe returned to the big screen this past weekend with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Although there is a part of me that is glad to see the Potterverse back, the film itself left me feeling very conflicted. This is not because of what I expected–that a movie based on a non-narrative bestiary doesn’t exactly have the strongest foundation to build on. In fact, I actually wish the film had figured out how to utilize this more, and kept to the original concept presented for this film, which is that beasts escape and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has to find them. Instead the film, sort of kept to that concept, while also adding in the bare bones to explore the backstory of Gellert Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) war against the wizarding world. I know what you are thinking: how on Earth do those ideas connect? Very poorly. Overall, I still strangely enjoyed a lot of Fantastic Beasts, but man did it feel like a giant pile of wasted potential when all was said and done.

Still, I don’t want to dwell too much on this movie specifically, but instead use it to emphasize what has been a growing trend in movies these days: world building at the expense of the story on screen. Marvel films have had this issue for years, WB has had similar issues with their DC universe, and those two are just the tip of the iceberg. Clearly the focus of Fantastic Beasts changed somewhere in development, but the film was unable to fully change to fit this, and we were left with a movie that, even though it was polished and fun, was also a narrative mess. Most Hollywood film franchises desperately need to try and actually focus on what is actually happening on screen instead of always worrying about what is next. I say most, because look at the Fast and the Furious franchise. Each film in that series cared more about telling a story that worked for that film, and left it to the next film to worry about how to make everything connect. Hell, as bad as Jurassic World is, at least it too told a single story that wasn’t super concerned with how it would connect to the next film, other than actors that would be returning. To be fair, neither one of these franchises have the incredible world building potential of Marvel, DC, or the Potterverse, but that makes this more of shame, because the world building should be easy for these films and thus allow them to focus more on the story at hand. If as reported we’re really going to get four more Fantastic Beasts movies, I hope they find a better balance between building worlds and putting stories in them.

David Robertson

From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this week.

  • The Life in the Kraken Podcast is back! In Episode 016, the gang discuss Marvel’s Doctor Strange, detail what’s happening in the tiny but exciting world of board games based on H.P. Lovecraft published by Fantasy Flight, and catch up on some anime in the classic segment Nothing But Trash.
  • Happy Thanksgiving! As Americans enjoy their holiday weekend, Kyu will attempt to counter the darkness and cynicism of our time with some Pop Culture To Be Thankful For. (Update: the darkness won.)
  • On Saturday, Baturdays returns with Detective Comics #51, “The Case of the Mystery Carnival.” What’s with Batman comics and clowns and circuses and carnivals and all that? I mean, what’s the deal? Kyu has some thoughts on the subject.

Catch of the Week:

Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week.

David: Ahh screw it, Pokemon Sun and Moon is out. Like all Pokemon games, it is awesome, so stop reading this and just play it.

Kyu: I love serial killer stories, and I also love stories about moody teens who have trouble relating to others. That’s why I so enjoyed Dan Wells’ YA trilogy beginning with I Am Not a Serial Killer. Now that book has been made into a pretty good movie that’s worth seeking out. Max Records (unrecognizable from his much younger role in Where the Wild Things Are, but still quite good) plays John Cleaver, a weird kid in a small Midwestern town who exhibits most of the warning signs for sociopathy, but is very much trying to be good. Being good is hard when there’s suddenly a killer on the loose, though, and the film does a good job of playing the delicate tension between John’s moral goals and violent temptations as he investigates a series of grisly murders. The novel’s wonderful interiority is (partially) replaced here by a strong sense of atmosphere, as the isolation and small-mindedness of the town and its residents through a snowy winter threatens to strand and suffocate John in a lonely world. Although the film drags a little bit in the second half, it really comes into its own in the ending, which turns the novel’s memorably absurd climax into an aching, complex symbolic statement on the way the passage into adulthood can mean a powerful change (even a kind of death of the self) as the hard work of changing one’s negative qualities into positive ones finally bears fruit. Although a little rough around the edges (and definitely showing signs of budgetary limitations), this was a rewarding experience and I hope they make the next two books into films as well.

That’s it for this week. The Kraken doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but due to this particular season and phase of the moon he will attempt to ritualistically hunt and kill a giant squid. And that’s just as good.