Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Dir: David Yates
I’m not the biggest Harry Potter fan in the world, so my enthusiasm for spin-off stories is limited. Someone left comment on one of my earlier Harry Potter reviews and asked me if I had had any sort of childhood at all? My answer was yes, of course, it just happened long before the boy wizard was a twinkle in J. K. Rowling’s eye. When Harry Potter first came out I was chasing girls and drinking beer, I had no time for children’s fantasy novels, and I still don’t, even though I have far more time on my hands now that I no longer chase girls and drink far less beer than I used to. However, I didn’t mind the films, in fact I enjoyed the last few or so and David Yates was my favourite director of the franchise. My little sister was really into the books, she liked the films too but was often left disappointed that her favourite parts of the series were left out, although she appreciated why they would be. Like many book series, it is impossible to adapt every bit of content, so it was good to hear that it was J. K. Rowling herself who wrote the screenplay to the hotly anticipated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is mentioned several times as a school textbook in the Harry Potter book series, so adapting it into its own story and giving the author something of a background is rather neat I think. Rowling wrote a physical version of the book in 2001 to raise money for the British charity Comic Relief. It was written as a textbook, listing eighty-five ‘beasts’ as well as where they come from. It is forwarded by the fictitious author Newt Scamander. Rowling’s screen play is based on how Scamander discovered the beasts and follows his various adventures in capturing and studying them across all four corners of the globe. I suppose it’s an obvious idea in keeping the franchise in the cinema but I think it’s pretty clever, as it still feels like a Harry Potter film but without featuring him or having to fit within the constraints of his story. It’s the perfect sequel/prequel/continuation of the world Rowling has created. The idea could have taken the story anywhere in the world but I love that it starts in 1920’s New York. It’s a great excuse to use a bit of art-nouveau, visually it’s a world away from the old English gothic architecture of Hogwarts but somehow it lends itself into the world of magic rather well. There is a bit of that style in certain Potter films, The Order of the Phoenix being the first that comes to mind and I think I liked that film more than the others because of it. There is a mobster vs wizards feel about it, wands and spats, it’s original and it works. Sure the cynic in me says Rowling is out of ideas but actually I think this is the right step in a different direction. She’s created a world, a successful world and one full of possibilities, why would she abandon it. I don’t think it’s all about the money either, sure there is a lot of tie-in stuff such as the publication of the screenplay but there is also a lot of magic stuff for the true fans. Rowling released four pieces of writing on her online page Pottermore as an introduction to the film, titled History of Magic in North America. It is included Information about scourers in North America, brutal and violent magical mercenaries who played a big role in the historic Salem witch trials of the 1600s, as well as info about various American wand makers, the role magic played in World War One, Native American magic, the foundation of MACUSA, the way No-Maj/Wizarding segregation was enforced brutally after a violent and terrifying breach of the international statute of secrecy and the institution of Rappaports Law, and life in 1920s Wizarding America, with info about Wand Permits and Prohibition. Later in the year, Rowling released a second part to her History of Magic in North America series, entitled "Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry", which details the founding of the pre-eminent American Wizarding academy and allows users to sort themselves into one of the four houses of the school. The school itself is also mentioned in the film. Now I’m not a Potter fan (are they called Pot-heads?) but I am a nerd, so I appreciate this kind of thing. I found the film to be rather universal too, so I may have missed a few references here and there during the film but I never felt ostracized or muggle-like. I thought Eddie Redmayne was good as author and wizard Newt Scamander, although I can think of other actors who I believe would have been more suited to the role if I’m being honest. Katherine Waterson and Alison Sudol play sisters, one a witch and the other accomplished in Legilimency (the art of mind-reading) and both play and look the parts perfectly. Colin Farrell is surprisingly good in his ‘is he a good guy/is he a bad guy role as a high-ranking auror and director of magical security for MACUSA. I don’t say ‘surprisingly because I don’t rate him as an actor, I do very much, but I just didn’t see him suiting the role at all. I was thrilled to see one of my all-time favourites Samantha Morton in a strong role and I thought Carmen Ejogo was great (although I would have liked to see more of her) and Ezra Miller was brilliant. My heart sank a little when Johnny Depp was revealed, I can’t think of many magic-themed films he’s been in but it still seems like the genre has had its full share of him. I loved Ron Pearlman’s Goblin gangster character but I’m sure Rowling regrets having Jon Voight in the film after all the horrible things he’s said since the film was made. The film’s big star and scene-stealer though is relative unknown actor (for now) Dan Fogler. A muggle who gets caught up in the world of magic by mistake but leaves a lasting impression on the magic folk he encounters. The special effects are good, although a bit questionable in places and I’m not sure all of the beasts looked quite as good as they could (except for Pickett the Bowtruckle, he is probably my favorite film character of 2016) but on the whole it was visually pleasing. I was pleasantly entertained throughout and I look forward to the next chapter and long may Rowling’s franchise continue.