The Movie: 8/10
As a film lover I find it’s never worthwhile to hold back feelings of nostalgia. We like to see things cycle back again in movies, and sometimes it’s what makes for the best emotional payoff. Even a movie as dreadful as the recent fifth installment in the Pirates Of The Caribbean saga can benefit from a nostalgia plug. It was wonderful to see Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Turner character appear toward the end of the film, because it made you think back to the early days of the franchise when it was still fun and new.
With Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them that kind of feeling is amplified tenfold with just about everything that happens on screen. It hasn’t even been that long since the Harry Potter film series wrapped up, and yet it was so final that it feels very much as if we left it in the past. I grew up on Harry Potter so seeing a film like this that brings us back into the wizarding world was a powerful blast of nostalgia. I bought in completely, even if there were no Harry, Ron, and Hermione to guide me this time.
Instead there was Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an awkward magical fellow on a quest to research, document, protect, and explain magical creatures. As Potterheads will recall, Scamander actually wrote a textbook that students at Hogwarts would read for their Care Of Magical Creatures courses. In this film, set when he’s a young man on a trip to New York City many years before Harry was born, he winds up on a hectic quest to recapture creatures that have escaped from his magical briefcase. There’s more to the story than this, including rumblings of dark wizardry, some cooperation with a demoted Auror (dark wizard catcher), and some amusing Muggle happenings. But for the most part it’s Newt and his efforts to recapture creatures that will hold your attention.
It’s a little silly at times, and you do feel the absence of beloved characters. But I confess, I was mostly delighted. Redmayne more than holds his own as the new lead in a Potter-related franchise, and the magical creatures are inventive and beautifully rendered. That said, there are a few drawbacks.
One is that the focus on the Muggles, and in particularly one lovable buffoon, is a bit too heavy. It makes sense. Wizards running around New York City are in enemy territory, and as far as we know there’s no Diagon Alley on the other side of the wall behind a bar somewhere. There ought to be a lot of Muggles, and the wizards ought to have to take precautions. But I could have used more about Newt, Aurors, and dark wizards, and a fewer Muggle shenanigans.
There’s also a strong sense that this was as much about launching a franchise as anything else. There’s already talk of sequels (which is perfectly fine), but additional spinoff material seems somewhat extra. A mobile slot reel loosely based on the film has already emerged (it’s called “Wintastic Beasts”), and in your local bookstore you can probably find the script re-designed to look like a novel. There’s nothing wrong with these, and the slot game isn’t even officially affiliated. But all together it still feels very much like a moneymaking opportunity as much as a new creative endeavor.
- Before Harry Potter: A New Era Of Magic Begins! – This is a documentary about the creation of the film, and includes interviews with J.K. Rowling herself. You can see a snippet of the doc online, where it’s described as a look at the casting of the movie. This isn’t a Blu-ray with too many special features, but the chance to hear from Rowling is a real treat.
- Character Profiles – There are lots of featurettes on key characters, including The Magizoologist, the Goldstein Sisters, the No-Maj Baker, the New Salemers, and the President and the Auror. There are also similar featurettes about several of the magical creatures.
- Deleted Scenes – There are 11 to enjoy that nicely extend the film.
- Design Features – These tell about the creation of the world of Fantastic Beasts, including settings in New York City and within Newt’s magical briefcase.
Cover Art & Menus: 10/10
I’m not one for too many frills on cover art or menus. I like things to look nice and be straightforward. In these areas, Fantastic Beasts nails it. The cover is free of distractions with the focus on Newt, and just enough costuming to let you know you’re back in the wizarding world. The menu kicks off with music any fan would recognize from the Potter films before spiraling into the newer theme for this particular movie, and the selection options are clear and easy to navigate.
Audio & Video: 10/10
Warner Bros. isn’t about to skimp on audio and video quality with a title of this magnitude, particularly when it relies so heavily on special effects and a detailed world. Accordingly, the visuals are stunning, as interesting and look just as great on home video as they did in theaters.
James Newton Howard put together the score for this film, and did so with some wonderful callbacks to John Williams’s work in the Harry Potter movies. The music was responsible for just as much of the aforementioned nostalgia as some of the visuals, though it wasn’t without plenty of original tunes and numbers. As one article put it before the film was even released, you can hear the Harry Potter vibes in some of the music. It’s all presented very well on the Blu-ray in DTS-HD Master Audio.
You have to understand what you’re really getting out of this movie. It’s not a masterpiece, and in fact it would probably rank toward the bottom if put up against the Harry Potter films. But it’s wonderful for what it’s trying to do, and that makes it worth owning for any Potter fan. The Blu-ray isn’t overflowing with special features, but it’s a solid release with some interesting extras, and it vividly brings the movie to life.