Friday, September 08, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

I'll state up front that I've never had any interest whatsoever in Harry Potter, either the books or movie series. The rest of my family has read them all and seen them all, but the whole thing has simply never appealed to me.

Despite that, tonight I found myself watching J.K. Rowling's sort-of prequel to the Potter series, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016), and on the whole I thought it was pretty good entertainment.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a British "magizoologist" who arrives in 1920s New York carrying a small suitcase filled with magical creatures.

Newt discovers that U.S. wizards are an uptight bunch, keeping their existence very hush-hush from normal humans, known as "No-Maj" (or the more familiar term Muggles in the UK). After Newt lets a "No-Maj" named Jacob (Dan Fogler) see some magic in action, he's arrested by Tina (Katherine Waterston), who hopes it will be a good career move at the Magical Congress of the USA.

That flops and Tina ends up taking both Newt and Jacob home, where Jacob hits it off with Tina's sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. The quartet eventually find themselves on a series of adventures to round up some of Newt's missing creatures while dealing with the fearsome Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).

That's a very bare bones description of an intricate plot, due in part to the fact that I was frankly a bit lost at a couple points as to what was going on. (After writing the majority of this review I was amused to find Leonard Maltin wrote last year "The storyline is not always clear, to put it mildly." I'm glad it wasn't just me -- and he'd seen the Potter films!) Despite my occasional confusion, overall I thought the film was an entertaining watch.

The redhaired Redmayne as the conjurer/animal keeper rather called to mind Dr. Who, never fazed and always game for the next move. I especially enjoyed Sudol and Fogler in an unexpected and charming "Beauty and the Beast" type pairing; they steal all their scenes.

I also appreciated the film's boundless creativity and the fact that the story is set in a larger universe with a history, rules, and traditions. It would have been nice if it was slightly less hard for a newbie to get inside that world and understand it, but I was able to do so well enough to appreciate the film, though I frequently found myself pondering unanswered questions.

My biggest quibble with the film was the flat, boring leading performance of Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) as Tina. A livelier actress with more inner depth would have made a huge difference. Tina simply wasn't interesting, an unfortunate meeting of dull character with an actress unable to bring out shadings which might engage the audience's interest.

At 133 minutes, the film could easily have stood to be pared down by 10 minutes or so. For instance, was Jon Voigt's character really necessary? I don't think so.

The film has a good musical score by James Newton Howard, although I would have liked the music front and center more often during the film, rather than saving the best for the end credits.

FANTASTIC BEASTS was directed by David Yates. It was filmed by Philippe Rousselot. The supporting cast includes Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman, and Johnny Depp, setting up a sequel.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for fantasy action sequences. I think it would be pretty scary at times for the small fry, though not for older children.

This movie is available in multiple formats including Blu-ray. I watched it in high definition via cable's HBO.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I need to revisit this film. I recall enjoying it, but felt the hubby beside me squirming in his seat. Something like that detracts from the moment.

Perhaps the creativity you observed will interest you one day in the Potter series, books or movies. I held back for quite a while, but eventually made a deal with my daughter, grade 6 at the time (she was behind her friends in the Potter craze). I would read the first book if she would read a P.G. Wodehouse story. Win-Win!

4:28 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I've finally found someone who shares my situation: I am surrounded by family who dotes on the Harry Potter books and movies, while I am totally indifferent...

9:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Enjoyed your feedback! Funny thing, my husband had previously enjoyed this and was the one to encourage me to watch it with him. :)

I figure if the Potter series hasn't caught on with me by now, despite everyone else in the house being enthusiasts from the outset, there's probably not much hope, but I've developed unexpected interests over the years so you never know! I loved your "trade" of Potter for Wodehouse, what a great idea.

Best wishes,

9:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Mel, got your comment after answering Caftan Woman -- that's funny!

As the books came out I vicariously enjoyed the excitement and even ordered my oldest daughter one of the books from Amazon UK when they had an earlier release date. In fact, this very blog was created on a day when my daughter was waiting by the front window for a Harry Potter book delivery -- setting up the blog template for me gave her something to do while she waited for her new book! LOL.

Fortunately husband took them to all the movies. For Christmas this past year I gave him a ticket to go see the new Harry Potter land at Universal Studios with our daughter! They had a great time. :)

Best wishes,

9:37 PM  

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