FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Josh Cowdery, Samantha Morton, and Colin Farrell. Directed by David Yates. Rated M (Fantasy themes and violence). 133 min.
This fantasy action film is based on a book by J.K. Rowling of the same name, and is the first of a series of five fantasy films based on companion books to the Harry Potter series. The movie focuses on what is happening in 1926 to the world of wizards in New York City, where witches and wizards live in tenuous harmony with humans.
The film is Rowling's first attempt at screen writing, following the extraordinary success of her Harry Potter books and the movie series based on them. The events of the film occur more than 50 years before Harry Potter was born.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is the lead character, and he is an eccentric wizard who travels the world in search of magical creatures. He wants to protect them and document them for a book that he is writing. Creatures he has rescued lie hidden in his leather carrying case. In New York, a No Maj factory worker, called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is a kind person at heart, causes some of his beasts to escape and start roaming on the loose. No-Majs are ordinarily a fanatical faction bent on exposing and eradicating wizards and witches wherever they can be found.
Newt teams up with Tina (Katherine Waterston), a former witch, Jacob, and Tina's sexy sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), to try to recover the beasts before they cause too much havoc and come to serious harm. His quest puts him on a collision force with the evil head of American magical security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). The future of wizardry in New York City, and beyond, is being threatened. There are creatures on the loose that are dangerous, and an terrible force has been released that is spreading horror in New York City.
The film is full of magical inventions, and the evidence of Rowling's fertile imagination is everywhere. There is a great deal of magic-wand effects, just like in the Potter movies; wizards and witches are being pursued and killed; a US Senator (Josh Cowdery) is murdered at a dinner gathering; the New Salem Philanthropic Society, led by an evil No-Maj (Samantha Morton) schemes malevolently; and Goblin gangsters, showing great make-up work, run nightclubs.
This is a movie that tests the limits of one's own imagination, and its impact lies heavily in the originality captured by its visual imagery. The film essentially offers an incredible number of fantasy creatures that exist to be appreciated and enjoyed, Rowling-style. There are frequent references to the Potter universe; the loose story-line is complicated, and everything is dependent on the vividness of Rowling's creations.
Eccentricity abounds in the movie, and it is well reinforced by Redmayne's nervous acting style as Newt. However, there is no spiritual sweep across the film as was evident in David Yates' direction of four previous Potter films where nobility drove the action. There is some frantic philosophising at the end of the movie, but the vividness of Rowling's fantasy is what holds attention. The film's coherence essentially flows from the accumulated force of the eccentricity supplied by the film's effects, and not from its plot-line, or Yate's direction.
This is a movie, that is unsuitable in its violence for viewing by children, and it helps to be an appreciative fan of the works of J.K. Rowling. The film is light, bizarre, sinister, odd, and gruesome at the same time, but has a lot of charm, and its fantasy effects are highly distinctive. The movie is an entertaining mix of all these features, and we are told that there is more to come.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 17th., 2016