Film Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

fantastic_beasts_movie_poster.jpgDirector: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol

 Review by Gilbert Seah

The spin-off of the HARRY POTTER films that began as one of Harry Potter’s text books in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, FANTASTIC BEASTS is a Harry Potter film without Harry Potter. Directed by David Yates who did a number of the Potter films, FANTASTIC BEASTS looks just like a J.K. Rowling film (she wrote the screenplay) despite the fact that it is set in New York City. Perhaps the fact that the film was shot in Liverpool to stand in for NYC could be a reason.

The book contains the history of Magizoology and describes 85 magical species found around the world. To get into the spirit of Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts (not shown in the film), provides the Foreword and explains the purpose of the special edition of this book (the Comic Relief charity). At the end, he tells the reader, “…The amusing creatures described hereafter are fictional and cannot hurt you.” He repeats the Hogwarts motto: “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus”, Latin for “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”.

Harry Potter is replaced in FANTASTIC BEASTS by a new protagonist, a magizoologist called Newt Scamander, who at the start of the film arrives at Customs in NYC from a boat. He carries a suitcase that contains mythical creatures from his travels – creatures that predictably escape with Newt chasing them all around the city. The creatures are undoubtedly cute and weird, but the chase sequence at the film’s start runs too long. It feels like Peter Jackson’s KING KONG when the gorilla runs amok in NYC.
But Newt (Oscar Winner Eddie Redmayne) makes a good Rowland hero – a welcome difference from the alpha-male superhero that has graced cinema screens much too often. Newt is shy, wary of romance and bumbling without being too clumsy. Redmayne does well with his mannerisms often whispering instead of shouting his lines.

If there is an Oscar winner in any department, my bet would be another Oscar in the wardrobe department for Colleen Atwood. Her costumes are nothing short of magnificent.

The plot of the film can be briefly summed up as “the adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.” It is quite clear that the film has a narrative as weak as the hero’s personality. The story also suffers from the lack of a true villain. The villain in this piece, in the form of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) pops up not often enough. The sequel which is reported to have Johnny Depp in the starring role as the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald should add the necessary spice into the magic formula. Depp has a small cameo in FANTASTIC BEASTS.

But for a whopping $180 million production cost, Yates’ film dazzles the audience well enough though one might complain that the film is too full of special effects. In fact the film lacks a better story. An example is the first Harry Potter in the franchise, which is not the best but survived as the most watchable because it traces the beginning of Harry with a good solid storyline of him being an orphan and first sent to wizard school. FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM should break all box-office records regardless and prepare audiences for the next four in the new franchise.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vso5o11LuGU

 

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