While I may not be a major fan of Harry Potter, I did go and take a look at Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. As Rowling often refers to creatures that are popular in fantasy, I was curious to see which ones would be used and how they would be portrayed in this film.
That, and my wife wanted to see the movie, so we made it a date night.
Curious what I thought of the film, even after my tirades against the rest of the Harry Potter franchise? Well, wait no longer!
Making a nod to the book of the same name (which has little to do with the film beyond the name), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Newt Scaramander, the writer of the book of the same name in the Harry Potter Universe, on a mis-adventure in America involving the creatures that he has been studying and carrying around.
The film takes place decades before the Harry Potter series, so it is a prequel of sorts, but not quite a prequel; more like some backstory to flesh out the universe. This is also the first of five new films that Rowling has announced, which should make this rather interesting.
==What You Get==
Weighing in at two hours and thirteen minutes, this is a beastly film that just barely ekes ahead of Deathly Hallows part 2. It follows Newt Scamander upon his arrival to New York, as well as his (mis)adventures revolving around his magical creatures that he has been bringing along on his journey.
As a Harry Potter film, it’s actually pretty good (high praise from me). One of the things that immediately stands out is the quality of the visual effects. ranging from the monsters down to each individual spell’s effect. They did not skimp in this category, and it is an amazing film to watch for the special effects alone.
The script and acting associated with the script were also top notch. Most of the scenes had great interaction between the characters/actors, and there was enough comedy interjected to keep the serious moments under control (but didn’t detract from them). I laughed multiple times during the film at a number of the quips given by the characters, as well as the humor portrayed in the body language of the various characters when needed. Overall, it was solid.
Plot-wise, it was well paced without any dragging moments like we have seen with other Harry Potter films and books. Granted, this was a film written directly as a film and not as a book first (even though there is a book by the same name; the film actually explains how the book was written), which is probably why it turned out as good as it did.
Finally, as a tabletop gamer, I enjoyed seeing the world fleshed out a bit more. It’s nice to see experienced wizards and witches doing their thing instead of following a band of students; we see a great deal of combat magic, nonverbal casting, and the capabilities of a full trained caster, as well as how magic fits into the world (and why certain rules are in place).
My first concern with the film was the telegraphing; if you knew what to look for, you know what’s going to happen right from the start. You can easily spot the main villain, what he’s looking for, who’s a traitor, and a number of other plotlines without putting forth and real effort. It could just be my experience with analyzing storylines, but it is an issue to point out.
The second, which is mostly nitpicking, is tied to the creatures themselves. A number of fantasy stories, including Harry Potter, pull creatures from mythology and folklore and place them into their works. In the previous Harry Potter works, we get hippogriffs, griffons, giants, trolls, goblins, pixies, dragons, phoenixes, and much more, and many of which are called by the name we would all expect. We don’t get that in Fantastic Beasts, sadly.
For example, there’s a creature called an Occamy (Occam’s razor, hahaha), but it looks very much like a Coatl. I even think it is called a coatl once during the film, but that’s it.
While it may not bother some people, it did irk me; if you are going to pull a creature almost verbatim from myth/folklore, then give it the same name, and if you are going to have a creature, actually explain and/or give the name (i.e. we don’t know Frank is a Thunderbird unless you know your folklore, and even then it’s a stretch due to depictions).
The third note: there’s a bit of deus ex here. Yes, watching films and reading books does require a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but the concept of “I’ve had everything to handle this very situation in hand since the start of the film but didn’t bring it up until now” is irksome and sloppy storytelling in my opinion.
The final issue, which is an issue I’ve had with every aspect of the Harry Potter series: consistency. If you create a rule of your universe, then stick to it.
In this film, we see a venom that causes memories to vanish upon contact soaking wizards without causing them any issues (while others use umbrella charms to avoid it), a Pensieve that mixes multiple memories together (and considering the purpose, an odd situation), a comment on limited mind-reading that goes out the window, and goblins carrying wands (something no wizard would be okay with), just to name a few.
I’m giving Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a rating of 3.5 Buns, and an argument of 4.
I walked into the film wanting to enjoy it. It wasn’t a Harry Potter film per se, but rather a film about the universe. I didn’t walk in with many expectations beyond notes from friends saying I would enjoy it, and they were right. Sadly, the usual inconsistencies in Rowling’s work still shine through, which really dropped the enjoyment of the film for me.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is still in theatres as of this writing. It was written by Rowling herself and directed by David Yates (the director of the last four Harry Potter films); both are planning on continuing these roles into the currently unnamed sequel, which is slated to be released in November 2018.