Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a new film telling the story of Newt Scamander, the famous writer of the Hogwarts’ s textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” in the magical world of Harry Potter. The film follows Newt as he arrives to New York City, U.S. with a suitcase full of magical creatures. When he inadvertently loses these same creatures, he incurs the wrath of the US Magical Congress, but, as it turns out, it becomes just one of his worries, as he partners with a Non-Maj (Muggle) Kowalsky and (ex)-Auror Tina to find his missing creatures. Especially stunning in an IMAX 3D, the movie is spell-binding, gorgeously portraying the wizarding world of the United States in the 1920s, and all the unimaginable creatures in existence. Recently, it has also become known that there will be four other movies in the “Fantastic Beast” franchise, all directed by David Yates.
If you care for laughs, mind-blowing special effects and a lot of fun action involving weird magical animals then “Fantastic Beasts” is an ideal movie for you. It will deliver all the expected and unexpected tricks with plenty – and I mean plenty – of humour. First of all, the movie presents a number of magical creatures with a great effect. There are: Niffler, a little creature obsessed with treasure that often wrecks havoc in places full of gold and other glittered treasure; loyal and shy Bowtruckle, a green tiny straw-man/stick-bug kept by Newt as a pet; Erumpent, a kind of a rhinoceros, but with special powers; Graphorn, a dinosaur-like creature; Occamy, a giant serpent that lays silver eggs, etc. All these creatures are described by Newt in his textbook, together with their Ministry of Magic Classification numbers. Secondly, the movie introduces many interesting, comical, novel situations and other hidden places in the wizarding world. For example, Newt and his crew of friends visit the Blind Pig, a magical speakeasy (an illegal establishment which sells alcohol) located at 124 Macdougal Street in New York, where they have a conversation with the goblin gangster Gnarlack, who is terrifying in his appearance. Also, it is interesting to watch a death sentence procedure at the Magical Congress, which is a trade-off between an electric chair and a painless syringe/spell procedure.
However, for those looking for some deeper mystery, intertwined emotional connections, perhaps a logical, thought-provoking core, they will be a bit hard-pressed. The “Fantastic Beasts” plot is a bit hard to follow. The problem here is that the film does not know where it wants to settle at regarding the “bad” guys’ representation: (i) the threat posed by the growing tension between the non-maj world and the wizarding world? (ii) an Obscurus (a magical parasite that develops when a wizard suppressed his/her magical powers) unleashed on the city and wrecking havoc there? (iii) the Mary Lou campaign against witches and wizards, i.e. the actions of New Salem Philanthropic Society?; (iv) the Magical Congress and Graves’ initial persecution of Newt and his friends?; (v) other dangerous beasts loose in the city; or maybe (vi) the threats of Grindelwald himself?, etc. The most confusing part happens in the final part of the film in the tunnel, where Newt, the Magical Congress, Credence (Mary Lou’s adopted son) all meet. One needs J.K. Rowling’s script at hand to understand what happened there. Moreover, there is also a very timid, almost unnoticed attempt made to probe Newt’s emotional life when he discusses his past school friend briefly. This is left unexplored and leaves great dissatisfaction.
Another interesting thing is that the same themes prevalent in the “Harry Potter” franchise are also seen here in “Fantastic Beasts” and J.K. Rowling seems to recycle here her favourite topics. As in “Harry Potter”, we see in the movie the same image of a repressed teenager with magical powers. Harry and Credence are similar in that they are both despised and punished by their adoptive parents, and initially try to hide their magical powers. Both Harry and Credence prove to have special powers in the end, controlling the whole situation throughout, i.e. being a special child. Credence was the one who unleashed his Obscurus, and Harry, obviously, is the “boy who lived”. Harry fought Voldermort and Credence fought Graves/Grindelwald. Both Harry and Credence shared special relationship with their respective dark lords. All in all, it is clear that in Credence, J.K. Rowling found her Harry Potter number 2. J.K.’s obsession with prophecies is also present in that she has made Demiguise, a creature that can turn invisible at will, to see future before it happened, a nice touch which is not to be found in the original textbook by Newt Scamander.
Elsewhere, I have argued that “Fantastic Beasts” could prove dangerous for “Harry Potter”, but I am happy to report that J.K. Rowling did not spoil or distort the Harry Potter world in any way – well, as of yet. There are references to Hogwarts and a reference to Albus Dumbledore in the movie, but so far, the world of Harry Potter is safe and sound. The reason for this is two-fold: (i) “Fantastic Beasts” takes places exclusively in the United States (not the United Kingdom); and (ii) “Fantastic Beasts” takes place in the 1920s, long before any Harry Potter was born. Even so, there is still a lot of Harry Potter damage on the way with Grindelwald (and surely his relationship with Albus Dumbledore) being a main character in future David Yates movies.
Although “Fantastic Beasts” may not provide additional thrills for loyal fans of Harry Potter (who has not seen the Alohomora spells being performed?), for people who had not read Harry Potter books nor watched films, “Fantastic Beasts” may prove to be an eye-opening, unforgettable experience. Even Harry Potter fans will still somewhat enjoy “Fantastic Beasts”. This is because, although the Harry Potter characters are more vivid and Hogwarts – more mysterious and exciting, it is still interesting to be introduced to some U.S. counterparts, like the Magical Congress, its workings and comparative laws.
“Fantastic Beasts” may be a feast for the eyes, but there is no denying that the movie is too fast-paced to the point of being nauseating. The head will be spinning from all the events happening. Upon watching the movie, you will not help yourself but wonder whether you have really grasped everything that J.K. Rowling wanted you to understand. There will inevitably be such questions as “Who is that?” “Why is this so?” “Why did he do that?”, etc. The chaos of the film is due not so much to J.K. Rowling and her script, but to David Yates. Yates, who produced “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix, & the Deathly Hollows” films, can deliver grand visions and an unparallel sense of adventure, but in his movies there are always some essential elements missing. Yates’ Harry Potter films are thrilling to watch, but rarely could they be remembered for their emotion-stirring scenes or a sense of a truly magnificent movie, as incidentally the first two Harry Potter filmed directed by Chris Columbus could be (see my article on the Harry Potter films here). Almost all Yates’ movies are too fast-paced, grim, sometimes incoherent, and really forgettable, as, for example, his recent “flop”, “The Legend of Tarzan” (2016).
The casting is great in the film. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is brilliant in his usual role of an eccentric Brit. Although sometimes it feels like Redmayne still thinks he plays Hawking from “The Theory of Everything” (2014), and his mannerism is painfully similar to that of Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), no more could have been asked of him. Newt’s romantic interest is Tina, played by Katherine Waterston, and the chemistry between the two is somewhat there. The laughs in the movie are provided by Dan Fogler in the role of Kowalski and Alison Sudol in the role of Tina’s younger sister Queenie. Interestingly, both Collin Farrell as Graves and Samantha Morton as Mary Lou are quite good in their roles of “bad” personalities. Collin Farrell looks a world away from his image in recent “The Lobster” (2015), almost unrecognisable and looks at least a decade younger. A real shame comes at the very end of the movie, when it is revealed that Johnny Depp (yes, Johnny Depp!) is the famous powerful wizard Grindelwald. Depp playing this wizard should sound ridiculous to any Harry Potter fan because in J.K. Rowling books Grindelwald starts as a close friend of Dumbledore before being defeated by Dumbledore in 1945. Dark and methodical in his work, Grindelwald is far from usually eccentric Depp both in appearance and personality. And, it is sad in away to give way to Depp in this movie and in the subsequent instalments only because he is now no longer can pretend to be a handsome leading man and wants to fit someplace.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a very good movie, hugely entertaining and fun with a dedicated crew of actors giving good performances. It remains faithful to the Harry Potter world, without distorting or damaging its premises. However, the production/writer seems to have gone for the “wow” factor, humour and special effects at the expense of actually telling an understandable, moving and thought-provoking story. 8/10
And, here is one of my favourite scenes: