Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is the first in a new five-movie series set in JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter universe, a franchise I never got round to seeing, although I’ve always intended to watch at least the third one, Harry Potter at the Prisoner of Azkaban, as it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who made the little-known space movie Gravity, plus Clive Owen’s superb dystopian thriller, Children of Men.
On his first trip to New York, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) meets Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) in the local bank, whilst looking for three of his creatures which have escaped from his suitcase and, like a TARDIS, it’s far bigger on the inside than the outside, so you could have anything of an outlandish size escaping from that. An accidental switching of cases means that the pair of them will be teamed up for the length of the movie.
Jacob is a No-Maj, i.e. they don’t know any magic; Also known as a ‘muggle’. It’s the 1926, and a time when one had to go to see a bank manager to get a loan, rather than just going to one of the online legal loansharks we have today. Jacob wants to get a loan so he can ditch his dire job in a canning factory and open up his own fancy bakery. In this world, officialdom also means you must head to a Wand Permit Office, if you’re from England, wanting to cast spells in the US.
Meanwhile, there’s some sort of supernatural force tearing through New York – possibly a beast (a fantastic beast?), blowing buildings apart and creating huge cracks in the street, terrorising all the “no-maj”s. As such, Jacob is so shocks that Tina tells Newt that Jacob looks like he’s had a “severe reaction”, to which come the reply, “No, a severe reaction would be if flames were coming out of his anus”.
There’s talk of how wizards can’t date or fraternise with No-Majs, so there’s the political element thrown in about segregation, and for any muggle who does get too close to the truth, who really shouldn’t, there’s always the option to ‘obliterate’ them – basically, wiping their memory a la Men in Black and many other films and books since time began.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them has a lot of well-timed humour to it, which reminded me of the old Tex Avery and Warner Bros cartoons from decades gone by. And of one of the creatures he’s trying to find, his name is Dougal…
- Tina: “Dougal?”
Newt: “Yes, and he’s invisible”
Tina: “How do you catch something that’s invisible?”
Newt: “With immense difficulty”
Redmayne is one of our finest actors of his generation and he doesn’t let up for a moment, here. Of the rest of the cast, for the entire movie, I got Katherine Waterston (Tina) mixed up with the absent Brie Larson (Room), even though I see the former more recently in the superb Queen of Earth. Samantha Morton and Ezra Miller‘s characters have an intriguing part to play that make up the darker elements to the story, but I’ll leave them there. Fans of Channel 4’s Humans will spot Gemma Chan in one scene as Madam Ya Zhou, alongside Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery… or in English for newbies like me, she is Madam President. And the man who will one day play me in my life story, Colin Farrell, as Mr Graves, had a look of evil to him from the trailers, but when he first appeared in the film, he had a look of someone turning up from the council to try and sort out a structural issue. I really enjoyed his performance… yes, I dig Graves (I’m here all week, try my wand).
I saw Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in 3D, a process I can take or leave for most films – especially since most of them aren’t shot in 3D, with it all being added in post-production. For Fantastic Beasts, the 3D was fine in places, but it took a while to settle down before it became useful. Early on, anything right at the front of the ‘camera’ didn’t work (along with a few bits later, including a rather ugly character pointing out of the screen – something that worked brilliantly in Life of Pi with Pi’s stick because that WAS shot in 3D), and quite often it felt like the set had been stuck together like a model village, and then the camera was rushing around far too much to maek the 3D useful. However, it did improve as time went on, and the final 20-30 minutes were very effective, for reasons you’ll see however you watch the film.
As I stated earlier, I’ve never watched a Harry Potter movie, although throughout that time I’ve been aware of a number of elements to the series so expected two hours of crazy, nonsensical happenings to take place before my eyes. That’s what I got and it was very entertaining, similar to Doctor Strange of which I knew even less before seeing that recently. In both cases, at no point did I feel like I was out of my depth, so for this one, JK Rowling and seasoned Potter director David Yates (the last four movies from that series, and set to do the same for the whole of the Fantastic Beasts series) should be given due credit for making this work for audiences old and new to the Harry’s world. And despite being a miserable old Meldrew a lot of the time, I was bowled over with a very heartfelt moment towards the end, which was perfectly written, acted and directed. (Pointy) Hats off to those involved.
However, I was surprised there was nothing of any sort at the end of the credits. Maybe there wasn’t in the Harry Potter films, but I half-expected some sort of magical flourish to occur, perhaps hinting at what was to come in the next movie but…. nothing. What a shame. Of course, I would’ve been the only person there to see that, but it’s still fun when that happens.
Also odd is that it’s missing Jacob’s line from the trailer, “I wanna be a wizard!”, as Newt claps appreciatively.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off looking for a Niffler…
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is available to buy as a screenplay, and you can also pre-order the Hardback book, Blu-ray and DVD. Also, you can buy the CD soundtrack, and click on the poster for the full-size version.
Running time: 133 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros
Cinema: Vue, Lowry, Salford Quays
Format: 2.35:1 (4K, Anamorphic Panavision); 1.85:1 (IMAX 3D – some scenes)
Released: November 18th 2016
Director: David Yates
Producers: David Heyman, Steve Kloves, JK Rowling and Lionel Wigram
Screenplay: JK Rowling
Music: James Newton Howard
Newt Scamander: Eddie Redmayne
Jacob Kowalski: Dan Fogler
Tina: Katherine Waterston
Queenie: Alison Sudol
Graves: Colin Farrell
Mary Lou: Samantha Morton
Credence Barebone: Ezra Miller
Modesty Barebone: Faith Wood-Blagrove
Chastity Barebone: Jenn Murray
Madam President Seraphina Picquery: Carmen Ejogo
Gnarlack: Ron Perlman
Mr. Bingley: Peter Breitmayer
Red: Dan Hedaya
Mr. Abernathy: Kevin Guthrie
Shaw Senior: Jon Voight
Senator Henry Shaw Jnr: Josh Cowdery
Mrs. Esposito: Ellie Haddington
Guide – Inside Macusa: Christy Meyer
Madam Ya Zhou: Gemma Chan
Singer – The Blind Pig Speakeasy: Aretha Ayeh
Singer – The Blind Pig Speakeasy: Emmi
Leta Lestrange: Zoë Kravitz
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.