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‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (review)

fantastic-beasts-where-find-them-movie-posterProduced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling,
Steve Kloves, Lionel Wigram
Written by J. K. Rowling
Based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
by J. K. Rowling
Directed by David Yates
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston,
Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller,
Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo,
Colin Farrell, Ron Perlman, Ronan Raftery

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them finds Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling penning her first feature screenplay, teaming with director David Yates, who helmed the final four films in the franchise.

The film also found me, sitting, anticipating, eager to experience a new world. This, I’m sure, will be the case with innumerable others in my generation—Millennials raised on Rowling’s words and the cinematic adaptations that followed.

Stemming from this history, the hardest thing about Fantastic Beasts (for this critic at least) was finding an inherent attachment to the characters on screen. There wasn’t any.

No, these characters had to earn it.

These weren’t personalities captured within the imaginative words and chapters and hundreds upon hundreds of hardcover-bound pages adding up to seven, adolescence-spanning novels. These were new faces, being brought to life through visual storytelling, rather than visual adaptation. This is a new story from the mind of Rowling, told in a wildly different way, and what comes to surface after 133 minutes of adventure, danger, fantasy and frolic is a simple fact … this woman knows how to spin a damn good yarn.

By the film’s finale, admirations were wholly earned in efforts that downright charm and enchant with each passing moment. Does the film earn the right to have four additional chapters follow in its footsteps? That fact is still to be determined, but if this opening undertaking is any indication, Rowling has plenty of tricks up her sleeve in capturing the wizarding world once more.

The film follows writer Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who penned the titular textbook, read by students at Hogwarts in Rowling’s original stories. This is Scamander’s own adventure, set nearly 70 years before Harry Potter was even a twinkle in his father’s eye—1920s New York. It’s an interesting shift to see the wizarding world brought to both a different era and country, with the magical mechanisms of this time period resembling a kind of steampunk sorcery. People gab like they’re in a black-and-white talkie, while the costumes and production design capture the atmosphere of prohibition, politics and the Jazz Age. If anything, the film’s attention to detail is fairly impeccable in its polished presentation. If director David Yates is good at anything, it’s making Harry Potter films.

Oh, there are also beasts … lots and lots of beasts, arguably fantastic and running amuck about the city after an incident of switched suitcases and slapstick. The visual effects run eye-popping havoc in Fantastic Beasts due to its plot nature, multitude of creatures and endlessly imaginative flow.

One could reason that the special effects in this film alone are more impressive than anything in all eight of the Harry Potter films combined. That being said, I did find myself imagining from time to time what a film of this nature would look like in the hands of 1980s Jim Henson using puppetry and practical effects. But, hey, CGI done right can be gold, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them proves to be a treasure trove of optical amusement.

But back to the characters. Along with Redmayne, we are introduced to sidekicks, love interests, villains and more played by an ensemble cast that includes Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogel, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton, just to name a few.

By the final credits, these characters left me craving more. Where Rowling once left readers on a book’s last page, only to open up the first page of another, she has now replaced the pages with scenes, credits and closing production cards.

Sometimes the magic of unadulterated and inspired storytelling is all you really need, and Rowling’s control of this craft is something fierce.

Consider me spell struck.

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