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. (from IMDB)
Let me start by admitting to you: I've never seen a Harry Potter film or read any of the books. In full disclosure, I had decided to avoid them due to feeling uncomfortable with the idea of making witchcraft appealing to young children. And when I had seen a Harry Potter witchcraft kit on sale at a local Border's Bookstore during the rise of the Potter phenomenon, I decided to steer clear of it. And, honestly, to this day, I don't really care to change that. However, I realize deciding to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them may seem puzzling if not entirely hypocritical. The deciding factor for me was that the story seemed less focused on witchcraft and teaching it to kids in a school, and more about the unique creatures within their world. And, upon viewing it, I've found that to be mostly true, with some of the history of the wand-wielders in the Wizarding World playing a big part of this story.
I love period films, especially ones that take viewers back to early 1900s America. In this story's case, we travel back in time to 1926 when a "Magizoologist" named Newt Scamander travels to New York City from London with the sole purpose of getting to Arizona to release a Thunderbird back into its natural habitat. But some mayhem ensues when creatures escape and Newt must round them up before any real damage is done. It's amusing that, with a wave of their wand, these wizards can cause "no-maj" or "muggle" people -- folks without magical abilities - to forget all they've just encountered within the Wizarding World. (Think the neuralizer from Men In Black and you'll know exactly what I mean.) Eddie Redmayne, who was just one of the many things that could not save the awfulness that was Jupiter Ascending, is wonderful here as Newt. He's charming, awkward, quirky and just fun to watch. The creatures in the film, although heavily relying on CG elements to be brought to life, give the film a classic 80s fantasy feel while keeping it feeling fresh and new. However, mixed in with the wonder and adventure of the story is a really, really dark and somewhat disturbing subplot that climaxes during the movie's final moments.
Given that this reviewer has very little knowledge of the Harry Potter universe, I found it rather surprising that the story heavily revolved around a family where the mother (played by Minority Report Precog, Samantha Morton) is a strong advocate for ridding the world of anything that even remotely has to do with magic. We also quickly learn that she actually beats and abuses her children, especially an older one named Credence, and there are a couple scenes where this is heavily implied. In fact, Credence, who's played by Ezra Miller (he's also The Flash in the upcoming Justice League film), is clearly a broken young man, and it's terribly sad to see him struggling under the tyranny of his mother's belt. It all comes to a head when we see her approach him with belt in hand to beat him and something intervenes. I know film villains can be dark or violent, but it all seems odd for what is otherwise a truly whimsical fantasy film. Child abuse just gets a bit too "real world" for this kind of thing.
Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through JK Rowling's new series. The acting is excellent, the central characters are lovable--especially Dan Fogler's down-on-his-luck baker Jacob and Alison Sudol's flirtatious Queenie--and the set pieces are luxuriously detailed. The fact they recreated 1920's New York City from scratch with actual, physical sets is mindblowing. The CG animation is what we've come to expect from Hollywood -- it varies from a little substandard to outstanding. HellBoy's Ron Perlman provides the motion capture for a goblin in a speakeasy, and while it's obviously based on his appearance (and his voice is recognizable), his CG-animated counterpart is hardly lifelike. But other characters, like the adorable niffler or the stick bug-like bowtruckle, are pretty good and are created by a mix of puppetry and animation. There's a smoke-like creature that is sort of a mix of the fire-enhanced villains of Iron Man 3 and the mummy in the 1999 remake The Mummy that doesn't look a whole lot better than either of those films (and one of them was made 17 years later!).
The content is mixed for this one. At times, it feels like a family friendly adventure film, and then, as mentioned before, it just gets shockingly dark. This uneven tone definitely impairs the film as a whole. The only language in the movie is 3 uses of "h*ll" and 1 "bugger," and there is only some flirtatious behavior from Queenie as the extent of any sexual content. For violence, there's a little blood on Jacob's neck when he's bitten by a creature, otherwise we see some victims of a smoke-like monster that have scraped-up, scarred faces. It's not the most graphic, but it is rather intense. We also see some scars or cuts on Credence's hands to illustrate the abuse he's been suffering at the hands of his mother.
As my introduction to the Potter world, I found Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them to be a rather enjoyable fantasy film. On a personal level, I think, as with any fantasy content, there's a right and wrong way to present and portray this kind of content to audiences, and with this series seemingly less directed towards children, it feels more like a traditional fantastical adventure story. And while I still don't have any interest in the Harry Potter series, I am curious to see where Rowling and company take Fantastic Beasts next.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/19/17)
Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins (15:31) - Author JK Rowling talks about the two book series and the origin of Fantastic Beasts and coming back to the Potter world. The featurette then covers casting and the filmmakers.
Characters = There's no Play All feature on the characters section, which begins with "The Magiczoologist" (4:14), which is all about Newt. JK and Eddie Redmayne talk about bringing the character to life, his demeanor and traits, as well as his quirky costume. "The Goldstein Sisters" (5:04) is all about the duo of Tina and Queenie and their sisterly bond. "The No-Maj Baker" (4:42) introduces Jacob as being the more normal outsider in the group. It also addresses his relationship to the other characters, etc. "The New Salemers" (4:42) revolves around the Barebone family, including Credence, his adopted mom and the rest of the family. It also touches on the evil lurking within and the trauma Credence endures. "The President and the Auror" (5:37) is about the president of the magic community, as well as Colin Farrell's Graves and where the story is going to go from here...
Creatures also has no Play All option. "Meet the Fantastic Beasts" (4:18) is all about revisiting the Potter world, in a prequel sense. It gives an overview of various concept designs of creatures, and what it was like filming with nothing actually being there. It then offers mini-featurettes on several key creatures: The "Bowtruckle" (2:36) stick bug-like creature, for which they used a puppet and CG together; the "Demiguise" (2:20), which is named Doogle, and his invisibility characteristics; the "Erumpent" (3:42), which is a rhino-type creature, showing how they tested how it would move using different techniques; that lovable "Niffler" (2:29), who loves to steal shiny things, and how he's inspired by a mix between a honey badger and a platypus; the "Occamy" (3:09) bird/snake hybrid that can grow or shrink to its available space; and the majestic "Thunderbird" (2:25), the gigantic eagle that has the ability to change the weather.
Design, again, has no Play All option. "Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts" (5:54) reveals how they tried to design a lot of actual, physical sets. They sought to create the finest of details, right on down to newspapers with stories written throughout them being stacked inside drawers that no moviewatcher would even get to see. "New York City" (7:25) shows how they built the 1926 sets instead of going on location to film in the actual city (Not surprisingly, most of 1926 New York doesn't exist anymore). We're shown some cool time lapse footage of the sets being built, which took 15 weeks to complete. "Macusa" (7:07) shows us how they recreated the NYC Woolworth building, which served as the home to a secret, magical dimension. They show how the facade was recreated from scratch and talk a bit about the outlandish costumes we see during this part of the film. "Newt's Magical Case" (4:59) takes us to the sets that represent the inside of his magical suitcase. While showing us paintings and setpieces from within the case, they explain what the different areas inside the case represent as well. "The Shaw Banquet" (4:29) takes us on-location to Liverpool. Inside the banquet hall, we see some of the excellent artwork (like a gigantic portrait painting), and the elaborate stunts and breakaway tables and chairs that were used for this action sequence. "The Blind Pig" (4:39) takes us inside the 1920's speakeasy designed to exist within the Wizarding World. Actor Ron Perlman talks about doing performance/face capture for his performance as the goblin gangster Gnarlack, and they show us the detailed Wanted posters on the walls and the creative band instruments (like an upright grand piano).
Deleted Scenes (14:33) - There are 11 deleted scenes with, amazingly, a Play All option! The scenes are mostly bits and pieces that include: Graves confronting Tina at the elevator and wiping the mustard from her lip for her (which otherwise just disappears in the finished film without this scene); Jacob's fiancé leaves him since he didn't get the money for his bakery; More of Jacob and Newt inside the case, including gigantic snakes lurking behind Jacob; Tina and Newt getting out of jail to go see Graves; A walk and talk with the trio on their way to find Graves; More of the gang chasing Doogle through the store. At one point, it drags around Jacob, and then features more flirting between him an Queenie; Queenie and Tina sing their school's anthem; Queenie and Jacob on a rooftop where she reads his mind that he had lost his brother in the war; The newspaper team talking during Credence's attack; Newt held at gunpoint by police just before they shoot at Credence's smoke monster; A magical bug flies off towards the steamship that Newt leaves on.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/26/17)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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