What’s It About? The Potterverse crosses paths with a medieval bestiary in JK Rowling’s latest creation, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.
Verdict: Set in 1920s New York, Fantastic Beasts presents an incredibly detailed world full of beautifully designed locations and creatures. From banks to department stores and speakeasies, you can really see the care and attention given to every last little visual aspect of the movie by its production designers, Stuart Craig and James Hambidge. Of course, it’s hardly surprising that this part of the film shines so brightly as Craig has vast experience in the world of wizards and muggles, having designed all of the Harry Potter movies. And Colleen Atwood, who’s worked on everything from Edward Scissorhands to Arrow, also does a spot-on job designing the character’s costumes.
The beasts of the title are certainly impressive as well, with brilliant visual effects bringing to life some intriguingly magical animals. I especially enjoyed the lovely scene taking us around magizoologist Newt Scamander’s menagerie. And there’s also some delightful effects work when it comes to magic too, with a particular favourite of mine involving a dinner time treat.
I know that many who watch Fantastic Beasts will already be fans of Harry Potter, whether the movies, the books, or both. But as this film takes place in a different era and location to Harry’s adventures, acting as a sort of prequel to them, you could actually still follow the story of Fantastic Beasts without knowing anything about the world of the famous young wizard. Though fear not Potterheads, there’s plenty of easter eggs here for you to track down!
As the first film in a major franchise, Fantastic Beasts has to do a good amount of world-building work, not only introducing new people and creatures, but also concepts and backstory crucial for future development. In fact, there’s so much to cover, some of it might have been better saved for the second of the five planned films, with any time left over from that being better spent on more character development.
Still, Fantastic Beasts is very enjoyable, and I preferred this film to the first in the Harry Potter series. And as the film puts lots of building blocks in place for later intrigue, there’s plenty here for possible development, and I’m very interested to see how the saga continues.
As for the cast, Eddie Redmayne is suitably eccentric and endearingly nervous as Newt, who’s a cross between David Attenborough and Doctor Who’s title character, and whose fantastic beasts escape from his leather suitcase, itself a mix between Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and the Doctor’s Tardis.
As Wand Permit Office-worker Tina, Katherine Waterston gives a spirited turn. While Alison Sudol is wonderfully sweet as her sister Queenie, channelling a mix of Some Like It Hot-era Marilyn Monroe and Renee Zellweger in Chicago. Dan Fogler, who plays Jacob, a No-Maj, which is American English for Muggle, enjoys appealing on-screen chemistry with both Sudol and Redmayne.
And Samantha Morton puts in a calmly cruel and creepy performance as Mary Lou, the leader of a group that wants to eradicate witches and wizards. While as her adopted son, Credence, Ezra Miller gives a wonderfully delicate, emotional turn. And in the role of Percival Graves, director of Magical Security at MACUSA, aka the Magical Congress of the United States of America, Colin Farrell proves quietly menacing.
Blu-ray Extras: There are features galore on the Blu-ray! Expect over 60 minutes of extras including Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins about JK Rowling, David Yates and David Heyman returning to Leavesden Studios to build a new and exciting corner of the wizarding universe; Meet the Characters: The Magizoologist, The Goldstein Sisters, The New Salemers, The No-Maj Baker, The President and the Auror; Meet the Creatures: Bowtruckle, Demiguise, Erumpent, Niffler, Occamy, and Thunderbird; Experience much of the Design in 360°: Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts, New York City, MACUSA, Newt’s Magical Case, The Shaw Banquet, and The Blind Pig; and an incredible 11 Deleted Scenes!
Final Words: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a real spectacle with gorgeous design and visual effects as well as a strong cast. Story-wise, a little too much is crammed into this first film but it’s very entertaining and a promising start ripe for lots of future elaboration.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them arrives on 4K, 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on 27 March 2017, and is available on Digital Download now.