By Alison Hull
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a prequel of sorts to the beloved “Harry Potter” series. It’s set in 1926 and follows Newt Scamander, author of the guide to mythical creatures with the same name as the film, as he ventures into New York City with a case full of magical creatures. A few of these creatures escape the case and wreak havoc on the city. Thus Newt must track them down before they do too much harm – or before anyone harms them.
While it’s not necessary to have seen the “Harry Potter” films, or have any knowledge of the series at all to enjoy this film, it’s certainly a bonus. But even die-hard “Harry Potter” fans may have some trouble following parts of the movie. J. K. Rowling—author of the Potter series—wrote the screenplay, which is wonderful because it means the content is directly from the mind of the creator.
But writing a screenplay is much different than writing a book, and this is where she falls flat.
She incorporates new concepts of magic into this story, since it’s set in the U.S. and therefore has different ways of using magic than in England, where “Harry Potter” is set. These are very intriguing to see on screen, but the audience is often left with no explanations as to what the new concepts are.
While watching the film one could find themselves wishing that they could go and read the book version so that they could understand all of the new magical elements.
The lack of explanations made scenes hard to follow. As much as we “Harry Potter” fanatics like to pretend we know everything there is to know about Rowling’s magical world, we don’t know everything in this movie. And it seems Rowling has forgotten to fill us in.
Nevertheless, the film is a treat for the eye. The visual effects are remarkable. The beasts they create are imaginative, colorful, and yes, fantastic. Some are cute, like the niffler, which looks like a furry platypus. Some are majestic, such as the thunderbird. We see these creatures and more when the mystery of what’s inside of Newt’s briefcase is revealed.
Expect to see a lot of tracking shots done by the camera, because the scope of the magical creatures and their environments is massive. And considering the amount of special effects needed to bring the magic to life, the acting is quite good as well. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne charms as Newt Scamander.
Katherine Waterston plays Tina Goldstein, a former Auror (for you muggles, aurors are the police of the magical world) who first tries to turn Newt in for his case, then ultimately works with him to save the creatures. Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowalski, a muggle who gets caught up in the adventure. He’s a surprisingly funny character. His reactions to the magical happenings are often the best parts of a scene. In addition, the film features Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein, Tina’s sister; Colin Farrell as Graves; and Ezra Miller as the troubled orphan Credence.
If you go to the theater expecting to see a “Harry Potter” film, you’ll likely be disappointed. While there are a few small nods to the original story, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is very much its own tale.
There are four more movies in the works for this series, although which direction the story is headed is anyone’s guess. The film works perfectly well as a stand-alone, but apparently J. K. Rowling has more in store for Newt Scamander. “Potter” fans will be watching closely to see how this series unfolds.