Once upon a time a boy called Harry studied at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardary. One of his textbooks was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (52nd edition), and this film of the same name is the story of the author, Newt Scamander.
Newt (Eddie Redmayne) himself was expelled from Hogwarts, many years earlier, and after a stint working for the Ministry of Magic spent his time roaming the globe in search of ‘fantastic’ – magical – creatures such as hippogriffs and nifflers. In 1926, a brief stop in New York turns into something rather more, when the creatures in his (magical, of course!) case manage to escape. Unfortunately, New York at the time is already under attack from something unknown and magical, and so Newt must rescue his collection before the Ministry put them down.
Given the massive popularity of the Harry Potter universe, it’s entirely unsurprising that JK Rowling would develop another series. I really like that she’s chosen to take a wide tangent, though, as it gives FBaWtFT its own space to exist, rather than being the poor cousin.
The period setting really helps with this. It’s a twee sort of take on the 1920s, but it adds a lot to the atmosphere. We also see a different part of the magical world, the American side, and it’s very well done in terms of being different, both from the time period and just geographically separate. Oh yes, and it’s highly refreshing not to have a cast of child actors 😉 Ahem.
The story itself manages to be adequate rather than brilliant. With news that there are four sequels planned, this movie feels a little bit like set up, and a little like a brief idea padded out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lovely watch, but it’s not ‘fantastic’, pardon the pun 😉
The cast, too, failed to utterly enthrall me here. Eddie Redmayne seems perfectly cast, but he gets to spend most of the movie being awkward and unengaged. Then there’s a scene of aping the mating ritual of some rhino-like beast, which is beyond cringeworthy. Hmm.
Ultimately, I think one of my strongest impressions from this movie is that the real hard-core fans would have gotten a lot more out of it. Doing my usual read up afterwards, there are a lot of details in the movie, things that I utterly failed to see meaning in, but which would have rung big ‘ahah!’ moments for those who’d spent time reading the wiki and other materials released since the original movie series finished in 2011.
Worth the watch, still, especially as we’ll be treated to so much more from Newt, but I think it’ll be another movie or two before the series gets to strength.
Released: 18th November 2016
Viewed: 26th November 2016
Running time: 133 minutes
My rating: 7/10