By Troi Watts
When I first heard that there was going to be a movie version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I was confused. The book is simply a fun encyclopedia of magical creatures from the Harry Potter world; it doesn’t have a story line. So how were they going to do this? Looking back, I liked not knowing anything about the plot line. It allowed me to go in with only my knowledge of the Harry Potter story and no judgements. The Harry Potter series did set high expectations for this new story, though, and Fantastic Beasts blows those expectations out of the water.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them focuses on Newton “Newt” Scamander’s trip to New York City in 1926, 70 years before the Harry Potter storyline takes place. Newt enters the fear-stricken, panicked American magical community with no knowledge of the mystery monster terrorizing their streets. This monster threatens to expose the magical world, which is the greatest fear of the American magical community because of the horror of the Salem witch trials. Newt brings along a magical suitcase that contains dozens of creatures he has been taking care of. In the process of catching one of his most frustrating creatures, his suitcase is opened by a No-Maj, (non-magical person) and several creatures escape into New York. As Newt and his new friends attempt to collect and return all of the magical creatures to his suitcase, the identity of the mystery monster is revealed, along with an evil plot to start a war between wizards and the No-Maj. The American magical community is counting on Newt to save them. Can he do it?
The ever-talented Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables, The Theory of Everything) portrays Scamander. Redmayne’s performance is phenomenal. He brings Newt’s quirky, quiet personality to life so much so that it is easy to feel like I’ve known Newt forever. It’s obvious that Redmayne has a very good understanding of who Newt is. In fact, every actor in Fantastic Beasts makes me feel this way. Katherine Waterson (Boardwalk Empire, Steve Jobs) plays Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, an American Magical Congress worker who stumbles upon Newt’s creature-related activities. Her frustration with Newt and fear of getting in trouble is palpable. She does a very convincing job of softening to Newt, though, as the story develops.
Fantastic Beasts required A LOT of visual effects to bring the magic and creatures to life. The visuals are mind-blowing, immersive, and worthy of applause. Of course we all know that none of the magic and creatures are real, but it’s easy to forget that while you’re watching Newt tickle a thieving Niffler. The successful visual effects and their convincing interactions with the the actors makes the movie even more believable and enjoyable.
I have very few bad things to say about this movie, but they can all be summed up quickly:
The camera work is odd in some scenes. A blur effect is heavily used, which can make it hard to focus on the action. Also, with three main conflicts happening at once, it can be hard to find a climax of this movie. There are two climactic points that I recognized, but at first it can feel as though Fantastic Beasts ends anticlimactically.
**Parents and those who scare easy, heed the PG-13 rating. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is much darker than any of the previous Harry Potter movies. A key fact to remember is that the American magical community is more fearful and depressing than the European magical community. This movie’s tone takes on their somber, gray mood. Also, the idea of magical children suppressing their power, becoming something dangerous, and ultimately dying is key to the movie’s plot. Trigger warning: child abuse is discussed too, but not shown. Don’t let this deter you from seeing Fantastic Beasts, but maybe leave the kids at home the first time and prepare yourself for a different sort of Harry Potter movie.
In short, go see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Harry Potter fans will delight in finding all of the references to known Harry Potter facts and normal movie goers will be satisfied by the wonderful acting, the immersive storyline and world, and the amazing visual effects. Don’t fall behind! This new series will contain five movies, with the second set to release in 2018. See this first one so you’re in the loop!