With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them about to hit theaters, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Harry Potter franchise. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when the world did not yet know “The Boy Who Lived.”
In the summer of 1998, I covered a bound galley of a novel called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by a first-time author named J.K. Rowling, and I did something exceedingly rare. I raved about it. Some excerpts:
A wonderful, creative children’s fantasy that is bursting with imagination and big screen potential. It has the appeal of a classic fairytale combined with an eye-popping visual environment. A slam dunk for younger moviegoers, the wry, tongue-in-cheek quality of the narrative also makes the piece engaging for adults.
Ultimately, all of these elements [the characters, setting, and plot] work together to create an incredibly engaging narrative with strong prospects as the kind of children’s fantasy that ends up captivating a much broader audience. There is solid storytelling, a readily adaptable through-line, and countless opportunities for stunning visual effects.
I keep a tight filter when it comes to submissions, and I vividly remember gushing over this one. But the problem at the time was finding good comps. Keep in mind that fantasy, though popular now, was a hard sell in 1998. The Lord of the Rings trilogy wouldn’t launch until 2001, and the biggest films of 1998 would be Armageddon and Saving Private Ryan. Where do Hogwarts and Quidditch fit into that calculus? I tried to highlight the rich characters and incredible world-building in the novel, and the opportunity’s for stunning visual effects. But would they listen?
Fortunately, I had a good reputation with the company I was freelancing for at the time. My boss read my coverage, shot out of her chair, and rattled cages all the way to the top. Lunches were canceled so senior execs could dive into the world of Harry Potter. Some wanted to make a move, but alas, the President of Production, despite being a very smart person, didn’t connect with the material, dismissing it thusly: “I don’t know…wizard school?” And so “The Boy Who Lived” became the one that got away…