The Harry Potter Franchise written by J.K. Rowling has been a highly important one for people of my generation. I personally was a huge fan of the series; I had a Harry Potter Lamp, the bed clothes, all the books and I prided myself on the fact that I looked very much like the main character till I went to secondary school when the films started to come out. The movies based on the books are somewhat of a mixed bag; my favourite is perhaps number three, The Prisoner of Azkaban based on the best book, as it is where the series truly began creating its own personal visual world. But the world of Harry Potter is much wider than the main books and movies. There were other books, namely two at the start that you could buy as part of comic relief in 2001, both textbooks that Harry read at Hogwarts; One was based on Quidditch and the other, the focus of this review, on the zoology of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The film adaptation of a fictional non-fiction book follows the author of the book, Newt Scamander, as he arrives in New York with a case full of magical creatures. Of course they escape and it becomes a race against time to recapture them all before the wizarding world is exposed. Making it even more dangerous are the effects of the evil wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, and the New Salem Philanthropic Society who are calling for new witch trials.
Much like the Harry Potter films after The Chamber of Secrets, Fantastic Beasts has a great visual aesthetic. Every little detail from the large halls of the Department of Magic in New York to the tiniest, dirtiest dive bar has been thought about and reasoned through the magical world. It is almost like the first Men in Black movie. It is always a joy to spend some time in the world of Harry Potter as, if you will excuse the terrible pun, it is so magical. The bar that the heroes visit half way through their journey is a highlight, a Star Wars cantina for sources. So is the interior of Newt’s suitcase, with giant vistas of American desert and arctic forests and towering rainforests but with that sense of bag which is felt and suggested through the texture of the backgrounds.
The performances are not half bad either. I generally find Eddie Redmayne to be wet and irritating, but the fact that he is playing an irresistibly punchable idiot makes him slightly more tolerable. Katherine Waterston as Porpentina Goldstein, a former Auror trying to regain her position, is suitably world-weary. Colin Farrell has fun as Percival Graves, a suspicious man with a secret plan, as does Samantha Morton whose Mary Lou Barebone is perhaps the most chilling villain in the Harry Potter films since Dolores Umbridge. I could go on, but that would make this already lengthy review even longer.
What lets the film down, however, is the story; I think this has been a weakness of most of Jk Rowlings work. Now before Harry Potter Fans, who probably won’t read this review because who really cares about what some 20 something guy with a blog has to say about the largest fantasy series every written, get mad, let me say this: I absolutely love the world that JK has created, it is rich and detailed and something that I have wished that I could be part of, it is just the narratives are in that world are paint-by-numbers. With Harry Potter it was the typical chosen one good guy vs. the devil, and while it had longer to develop the world and characters to distract from the slightly simple writing, Fantastic Beasts falls prey to countless clichés that you can see coming from a mile away. There is also far too much going on in the story, with Grindlewald, the New Salemers, the actual quest of the film, setting up a new location, new characters and new creatures all within the space of about 2 hours. As such character are rushed, and key emotional sequences feel underserved as we have not been following a character’s growth but someone taking us on a tour of a marvellous world.
Also, it must be mentioned that I saw this film in IMAX 3D and it was a great experience, the picture leapt from the page. But Fantastic Beasts committed a cardinal sin; it did it once, and if you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it. But Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them threw something at the screen, in that “ooooohhhhhh 3D!” kind of way that was only slightly tolerated back when 3D was still a cheap gimmick rather than a medium to enhance the viewing experience, and that one moment soured the rest of my experience slightly.
Overall I would recommend seeing Fantastic Beasts; despite the weakness of its story it is still a great world to visit again, and if I hear correctly we will be spending some more time back there again soon.