Release: 27th March 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
When news of Fantastic Beasts’ planned production broke, there was a universal cry of cheers and sighs. The long running Harry Potter franchise had run its course and etched a place for itself in the zeitgeist of an entire planet, yet the possibility of an entirely new generation of Potterverse characters, pinched from a throwaway book written on a whim for Comic Relief, seemed like sketchy plans – at best – to generate extra revenue for Warner Bros. Thankfully, in spite of its often aimless narrative, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is actually a worthy starting block for life outside Hogwarts.
The story begins with a confusing montage about how some wizard called
Voldemort Grindelwald has been crusading against, humans maybe???, and generally being a bad boy. Then that is that and we jump headfirst in to the world of Newt and his journeys in 1920’s New York. A large chunk of the film revolves around showy vignettes involving Newt’s encounters with a series of magical creatures. In spite of it being the film’s USP, these less mindful scenes give Fantastic Beasts a slow and seemingly wandering pace. Once you’ve watched Eddie Redmayne ‘flirt’ with a giant Erumpent by flapping his arse about, then you may well feel you’ve hit rock bottom. If it does achieve one thing, however, it is a palette cleanser for this newly developed world.
But behind all the unbearably cutesy attempts at peddling Niffler soft toys, and trying to out-Groot baby Groot with adorable Bowtruckles, Fantastic Beasts actually has a secret weapon; the Barebone family. Imagine the Malfoys and the Weasleys cross-pollinated, and you can begin to imagine what Mary Lou, Credence and company have to offer. As Beasts leaps from one set piece to the next, Colin Farrell’s Graves slowly introduces us into a subplot about a fearful no-maj family (American equivalent of Muggles) who are at the heart of a fledgling second Salem. Mary Lou’s abusive disdain for Wizards presents a central tension that is extremely under utilized until a, thankfully, gripping 3rd act. There seems to be a conscious effort to move towards a much darker environment by the film’s conclusion, which presents a much more appealing precedent than its previous gambit of the charmless Occamy.
The production design in Fantastic Beasts is second to none, and it may be the case that by the 3rd or 4th film of the series, Fantastic Beasts could well eclipse its English cousin for beauty and awe. But let’s concentrate first, on this freshman effort. As, believe it or not, Fantastic Beasts actually feels a lot smaller than the world of Harry Potter. Even in comparison to The Philosopher’s Stone, there is a noticeable difference in scale. Hogwarts and Privet Drive may be a lot smaller than New York City, but Newt’s experience somehow feel more confined; especially as one scene takes place INSIDE a briefcase. The costumes and special effects are also really rather lovely, with this world feeling wholly removed from the wider Harry Potter franchise, yet also sharing a remarkable continuity.
Let’s be clear, Fantastic Beasts is still very much in its infancy, so the Snapes, Dumbledores and Bellatrix Lestranges have yet to reveal themselves. As a whole, the cast is fairly likeable, but there is nowhere near enough personality on show to create ‘favorites’ anytime soon. This being said, one individual does offer a striking visual impact, so there is no doubt much to be seen in future editions. But for now, we will just have to settle for lovable meatball Kowalski and the underdeveloped Tina. Unless, of course, as previously mentioned, Eddie Redmayne’s arse wiggling is your sort of thing. In which case, fill your boots.
Film Grade: C
A solid selection of Featurettes offer inside looks at many moments in the film’s creation. Rowling offers a few tidbits about character back story, and for all you golden-era Gladiators fans out there; a small glimpse of Eunice Huthart at work. Meanwhile, the Deleted Scenes offer little addition to the story.
Special Features Grade: B+
As origin stories go, this one is a little bit of a mess. As world building goes, this one is a little bit of a mess. As Harry Potter movies go, Fantastic Beasts is well equipped to open that doorway once more.
Overall Grade: C+