Thursday 3 August 2017

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Bestiary In Show

Fantastic Beasts And
Where To Find Them

UK/USA 2016
Directed by David Yates
Warner Brothers Blu Ray Zone B

I’m really not much of a Harry Potter fan, it has to be said.

Unlike my parents, I’ve not read any of the books avidly and the only reason I’ve seen the films, once each, was because they dragged me along to the cinema to see them as each new one turned up. Alas, due to circumstances beyond their control, they never got to see this at the cinema so, instead of being dragged to my local flea pit to see it last year, I instead found myself watching it with them in a communal Blu Ray session so... I’m probably not the best candidate to give you a review focusing on the 'authenticity' of a story set in the Harry Potter universe.

What I can do, however, is at least give a view of how it works as a film and, it has to be said, this one’s not bad at all.

For me, the setting of 1920s big city America coupled with a central cast who aren’t a bunch of teenagers solving groovy mysteries is a good start at not alienating me completely and it’s also lucky I quite happen to like Eddie Redmayne as an actor, who plays the lead character here (yes, I even didn't mind him as that shouty bad guy in Jupiter Ascending, reviewed here... I have a lot of time for him).

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them dealt me its first surprise in that Potter creator J. K. Rowling actually wrote the screenplay... which isn’t based on a novel. What’s more, it doesn’t look like she had any help doing it (unless there was an uncredited script doctor in the mix) and so I have to say I’m very impressed that someone who is used to writing narrative based in novels is actually able to express themselves so quickly and competently in the rather more different medium of film. The more cynical part of me might say that’s no big surprise since she’s obviously been involved, to some degree, in the successful series of films based on her Harry Potter books for a fair few years but, nevertheless, the fact that the majority (for me... I’ll  get to it in a minute) of the film holds up as a cinematic whole is quite amazing and so she definitely is someone I should probably sit up and take more notice of at some point.

Not only is it a coherent movie... it’s also a fast paced one, which actually builds up characters and situations the audience can actually care about while still managing to cram in a heck of a lot of good ideas. The fact that she has an excellent cast such as Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudo, Ron Perlman and Johnny Depp obviously contributes greatly to the characterisations but, even so, the dialogue is quite well written and so is the way in which certain set piece events impressively move the story along in an efficient yet, wildly entertaining manner. And believe me, I didn’t expect to be writing something like that about this movie.

We also have Colin Farrell thrown into the mix who is not, I have to say, an actor I usually have a lot of time and sympathy for but, since he’s playing an obvious villain here, that kind of worked for me too, in actual fact.

The juxtaposition of the quirkiness of the wizarding world we are familiar with now from the Potter series of movies (and books) with the 1920s big city milieu really works very well and everything slots together in a fashion which, at times, made me think of watching certain Terry Gilliam movies in my youth. That being said, there was one problem I had with it but, honestly, it’s only a minor one...

The zoo that the main character played by Redmayne carries around with him in his suitcase, which kinda works like the TARDIS in Doctor Who in terms of the inside being vastly bigger than the outside, features in a couple of scenes but the very first time we are taken in there... it kinda outstays its welcome just a little bit. While I can see where an overly long CGI sequence introducing us to various beasts is probably a great scene for kids, I kinda got bored with it in the same way as the extended Enterprise vanity shots in the original Star Trek The Motion Picture (reviewed here) failed to quicken my blood as a young ‘un. However, I have to remember that, as I am now approaching 50 years of age, I’m probably not the primary intended audience for a movie like this and so... yeah, it is what it is and it doesn’t ruin the movie, for sure.

Other than that overly long section, though, I certainly didn’t find myself getting bored by any of the other sequences in the movie, which are all a lot more faster paced and which never got in the way of character development. Indeed, I can’t wait to see what happens to Dan Fogler’s character in any of the sequels because I really had a fondness for him in this and his final fate is something which is not uncommon in modern science fiction but which is handled so beautifully and tenderly here that... well, you have to wonder how Rowling was able to write anything quite so subtle and equally have to wonder how much of that cinematic sophistication in the handling of certain scenes was aided by the director and actors in terms of the conceptual input. You also have to ask yourself if it actually matters too because... what is cinema if not a collaborative art form?

Not least is the collaborative input of James Newton Howard's excellent score which takes Johnny Williams’ Hedwig’s Theme, quite literally, as a starting point and then gently but surely takes us on a new musical voyage completely appropriate to the movie. That being said, there was a scene where Williams’ theme resurfaces in the last third of the movie for a moment and I was trying to figure out why that particular piece of leitmotif was being used here. I suspect if I knew more of the subtle references from the books and previous movies, which I’m pretty sure must be scattered about in here too, I’d have my answer but... ah well. That stuff is off my radar.

So there you have it. A movie I never really wanted to see turns out to be quite a good film and most certainly a well crafted one. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series then you are probably going to want to take a look at Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, especially since I suspect the narrative will be linking in a lot more strongly in terms of the characters etc. in the next installment. For muggles like myself it’s probably not so essential but, even so, I quite enjoyed this one.

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