Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
DIRECTED BY: David Yates
WRITTEN BY: J. K. Rowling
DISTRIBUTED BY: Warner Bros. Pictures
STARRING: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Folger, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell.
RELEASE DATE: 18th November 2016
Jacob Kowalski: I don’t think I’m dreaming.
Newt Scamander: What gave it away?
Jacob Kowalski: I ain’t got the brains to make this up.
When Queen J.K. Rowling announced that she was writing stories for another series of movies, it’s suffice to say that Potterheads everywhere freaked out. Whether you’re a brave Gryffindor, cunning Slytherin, wise Ravenclaw or a… nice… Hufflepuff, everyone had high hopes for Redmayne as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The opening credits certainly played on the established aesthetics of the wizarding world, serving as an almost instant reminder that this isn’t one for the first timers. Magical headlines and moving headshots dart across the screen, covering everything from the legal pursuit of Grindelwald to soccer as the “No-maj” quidditch. What’s a No-maj, you ask? A strange name for a muggle. That’s what.
Set in 1926 New York City, the narrative begins with a twitchy and immediately eccentric Newt Scamander disembarking a ship and into the city, his famous briefcase clattering and grumbling as the creatures inside attempt to escape. After a scrape with immigration offices avoided by a nifty novelty trick (just in case the audience forgot the movie was about magic), Newt progresses to the streets of New York seemingly aimlessly, encountering straight away one of the main antagonists of the movie – the New Salem Philanthropic Society. Disaster ensues in a typically farcical, Rowling-y way, and after recapturing his escaped Niffler, Newt and the American Ministry of Magic are left with quite the predicament; an AWOL No-maj who has yet to be Obliviated, a law-defying pre-’60s hippy wizard (that’s Newt) a complicit ex-Auror and her sister. She can read minds, or something awesome. It’s just not fair.
As the movie continues, it becomes increasingly apparent that there are several independent and unique narratives interweaving and meshing together, and for the first time in the wizarding world, some of those are exclusively muggle-related. It certainly is one feature shows that this incarnation of wizardry is not quite so isolated and facile as Hogwarts is, which is only enforced as some of the hard-hitting topics are alluded to throughout the movie such as segregation, ignorance and manipulation.While this movie was easily one of the best things to happen for many Potterheads, fans must remember that this is not the world we know and love. McGonagall has yet to even be born, Dumbledore is not yet headmaster and Hogwarts itself is barely even mentioned beyond slight nods to Scamander’s background. This is where assessing the success of the movie becomes hard, because we all want to think of it as a ‘sequel’, when in reality it’s barely even a ‘prequel’ – it’s a continuation of a complex and expansive universe loved by many, but that doesn’t mean it has to do all the same things.
As mentioned before, this movie is set as much in the realms of ‘No-Maj’s’ than wizards, with New York City providing a vibrant and exciting backdrop. A missed trick, however, is how they use this for both Newt and the audience. In Harry Potter, some of the most beloved and memorable scenes are those set in London, where iconic landmarks are morphed and affected by the wizards’ adventure, yet in Fantastic Beasts it’s barely a factor of the movie. We see Central Park briefly, but to no great effect, as well as the construction of several towering skyscrapers, yet it just feels like it could have been set anywhere. For a fan base already unsure about the change of scenery, it may have been a missed trick to ignore the iconic sights of New York City that were present in 1926.Despite this, the movie and its discourse are well-received – Eddie Redmayne surprises with a dynamic and interesting presentation of Scamander, the plot is intriguing and catches the attention and imagination of the viewers, and the beasts are, well, fantastic! Comments may have been made about the pacing of the movie and how it ties up the threads of narrative at the end, but with a movie seated in an imagined history with almost entirely new characters and themes, that’s going to happen.
It’s hard to believe that it’s just a coincidence that the movie is set not only in the same year as Voldemort’s birth, but also just a few weeks before his mother Merope Gaunt popped out his then-nosed cranium. And, with the announcement that this is the first instalment of a longer series, it’s certainly exciting to see where J.K will go with this, and what tie-ins she’ll make between the American and British schooling institutions. The cogs are already turning in conspiracy theorists minds about the connections between the movies events, but we’ll leave that for you to decide!
As mentioned earlier, it may be hard for some fans to qualify this outside of the Harry Potter series, so for those who want to think of it as a sequel, I’ve given a slightly varied rating.
Rating: 8 Beasts out of 10 as a standalone, 7.5 as a continuation.