WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, in theaters now.
The Harry Potter franchise is among cinema's most successful to date, producing not only eight hit films based on J.K. Rowling's beloved boy wizard, but also spinning off a planned five Warner Bros. prequels, beginning with 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The series has had an undeniable influence on the modern Hollywood blockbuster, and led other studios to try, and fail, to replicate its magical formula, with the likes of Percy Jackson, Eragon and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Although director Eli Roth's The House with a Clock in Its Walls is in little danger of replacing Harry Potter in the hearts of fans, or in box-office record books, with this adaptation of John Bellairs' 1973 magical mystery, Universal Pictures may have stumbled onto its own low-key answer to the Boy Who Lived. There are even a dozen novels, from Bellairs and his collaborator/successor Brad Strickland, from which to draw.
Wizards in Training
The Harry Potter series, of course, followed the orphaned boy wizard and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, as they progressed through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and tried to prevent Lord Voldemort's sinister plot.
The story of Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) in The House with a Clock in Its Walls bears similarities, in that he too is an orphan being instructed in magic, only in this case by his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). There's a Dumbledore-like expert, though, in Cate Blanchett's Florence, and a Hermione-esque best friend in Rita Rose (Vanessa Anne Williams), who are there for the journey as Lewis grows into a warlock.
The Relics & the Monsters
Inherited from the dark wizard Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), Jonathan's house is filled with secrets, magical objects and living furniture, not entirely unlike Hogwarts.
There are also a few mythical beasts on the grounds, such as a snake in the closet and a sphinx made from grass that keep tormenting the family. These make The House with a Clock in Its Walls similar to Harry Potter's universe, with tons of secrets in the shadows, supernatural adventures to explore, and of course, the monsters draw parallels to the Fantastic Beasts spinoff.
The History of Magic
The House with a Clock in Its Walls cleverly lays the groundwork to travel back in time and explore the origin of magic. More importantly, it also teases a backstory involving Lewis' grandfather, and hints that some of the Barnavelt ancestors were involved in some epic magical wars.
With 12 books in the series, there's plenty of source material to adapt to the screen. However, there are also enough intriguing clues to a larger (ahem) wizarding world to expand well beyond any of the books, with an exploration of Flo's tragic past, in which magic killed her family, and Isaac's life before he was corrupted.
Universal Needs It, Badly
The disappointing performance of Tom Cruise's The Mummy effectively sealed the fate of the Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe featuring reimaginings of the classic Universal Monsters. And while Universal has found blockbuster success with The Fast and the Furious and Jurassic World, it certainly could use another, even one that won't reach those financial heights.
A reliable, family-friendly franchise focusing on the other books featuring Lewis seems like a good solution, particularly considering Harry Potter demonstrated, time and again, that there's an appetite for that kind of fare.
Directed by Eli Roth, The House with a Clock in Its Walls stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kyle MacLachlan, Owen Vaccaro, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Renée Elise Goldsberry. The film is out in theaters everywhere now.