Friday, December 8, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Introduction:

It may have taken eight movies, but we finally experienced the entire Harry Potter saga on the big screen. For most of us it was an entertaining experience and the adaptations were handled about as well as you could hope for a series of novels with so much detail in them. But studios can’t let a good series end without trying to wring a few more stories (and dollars) out of it. Soon enough we heard that series author J.K. Rowling was working on a new storyline set in the same world, but occurring before Harry Potter was born. Sounds intriguing, but Hollywood prequels have never been all that great.

Summary:

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York in the middle of the 1920s. He’s on a mission to return a rare magical creature back into the wilds of Arizona. Unfortunately he has a mishap with a non-magical man named Jacob (Dan Fogler) who ends up with Newt’s case. When the case opens, some of the magical creatures inside escape, and start to run amok in New York!

At the same time the magical society in New York is dealing with internal struggles. Some feel that the “no-maj” denizens are creating more trouble than should be allowed. They feel the time may be ripe for wizards to step forward and assert some kind of control. Others are against the idea. But this results in uncertain times where breaking the law is bad for everyone. Newt’s little indiscretion is going to cause some major problems. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a  employee for the magical government, tries to get a handle on things, but each move she makes puts her in the way of Graves (Colin Farrell) a man who is on a mission of his own. Will Newt be able complete his quest for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or is he going to find himself involved in something much more dangerous?

Good Points:
  • Gives us a look at the wizarding world in the United States and in the 1920s
  • Performances by the four main protagonists pull you into the tale
  • A score that captures the feel of the earlier series but gives it a jazzy twist
Bad Points:
  • Feels like it is trying too hard to set up future tales instead of focusing on its main tale
  • The movie moves in fits and starts
  • Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow
Overall:

Solid entertainment if you are in the mood for a deeper look into Rowling’s wizarding world. But all the world building and story set up for the later films takes up a lot of screen time and is actually the less entertaining part of the film. I was more interested in Newt’s search for his lost beasts and his interactions with Jacob, Tina and Queenie. That story was full of laughs, whimsy and fun characters. The darker material felt more obligatory. In the end I hoped for something a little less calculated and more engaging.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting:  4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total: 3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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2 comments:

  1. Ah, the dreaded prequel. It has been known to work (e.g. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) but the odds are never favorable. I haven't seen this one, but it sounds as though it avoided the biggest pitfalls, and I always give extra points to a 1920s period piece. There was a lot of radical authoritarian politicking of various stripes between the wars; I can see how wizards might be tempted to get in on the act. We'll have to see if the follow-up films veer to darkness or whimsy.

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    1. Yeah the setting is a real good one. I can see how it attracted Rowling especially after all the hints we get about that era in the novel "The Deathly Hallows". But it really feels like we have two stories competing for time here. A focus on one or the other would have made them stronger. I still enjoyed it, but it did feel pretty calculated.

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