Review for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
The Harry Potter films are fun to watch, but they do suffer a bit in the transfer from page to screen. For literary adaptations, they can be... well literal. Only a couple of the films outgrew the confines of the page and offered something truly cinematic. Generally the films were all about the narrative, about getting the story across, about determining what to adapt, and what to leave out. They also had to rely on the serendipity and good fortune of good child actors growing up to be good actors over the course of the films. So when a couple of years ago, it was revealed that J.K. Rowling was returning to the Potterverse, I didn’t approach the project with enthusiasm, and it took until a supermarket bargain bucket for me to give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a five film series a try. I needn’t have waited.
Newt Scamander is somewhat unique in the wizarding community, in that he’s invested in the study and care of magical animals. That’s certainly not a viewpoint shared in New York of 1926, where strict rules govern the way the magical world relates to the muggle, or rather No-Maj community, and the ownership, or breeding of magical animals is outlawed. But there is a beast loose in New York, attacking people and properties, and when Newt arrives in the city, promptly loses his magical suitcase, and some of his menagerie escape, he becomes the number one suspect.
Nothing to complain about here. Fantastic Beasts gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that is essentially pixel perfect, while the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos (7.1 core) English offers you all the lossless excellence you could ever want. There’s also DD 5.1 Surround English audio descriptive, Spanish, French, Czech, Slovenian and Russian, with subtitles in these languages as well as Danish, Dutch, Estonia, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, and Swedish, The image is impeccably clear and sharp, with strong, vibrant colours. There is no problem with compression or aliasing, and detail levels are outstanding. Special effects technology, especially when it comes to magic and the odd beastie is seamless. The audio supports the film well, keeping the dialogue clear and centralised, while putting the surround to excellent effect to bring across the action.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray with an o-card slipcover. There is an Ultraviolet digital code inside, and the disc boots to a simple static menu.
Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins lasts 15:31, and is the obligatory making of featurette, with interviews with cast, crew, and of course J.K. Rowling.
There are five featurettes looking at the Characters of the film, running to 24:20 in total.
There are seven featurettes on the magical Creatures herein, with a total runtime of 20:59.
The Design of the film is examined in six featurettes. These have a total runtime of 34:33.
Finally there are 11 Deleted Scenes on the disc running to 14:33.
This is the best ‘Harry Potter’ film yet! I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than any of the eight Harry Potter films, and the simple reasons are two-fold. When J.K. Rowling created Harry Potter, she created the whole world, gave it a history, gave it colour and dimension that extends far beyond the seven books that were published, much in the same way that Tolkein created Middle Earth. That means that any spin-off from the Harry Potter films doesn’t have to be in the same setting or even the same genre. The second thing is that this film isn’t an adaptation; it’s an original screenplay, which instantly makes it more cinematic, told in the language of film rather than translated into it. There’s also never any temptation to compare it to the ‘book’, complain about what’s been left out.
Instead of another story set in Hogwarts, we get a story about the author of one of the textbooks used by Harry Potter at school, set some seventy years before Harry Potter. Newt Scamander is an engaging protagonist, awkward and shy around people, but of a kindly disposition, his obsession is with the cataloguing and care of magical animals. It’s that which brings him to New York in the 1920s, and he gets drawn into an adventure far beyond his experience.
There’s a wonderful sense of history to the film, not only the recognisable in Prohibition era New York, but also the fantastic, as you get a sense of a magical world several decades previously, different looking magical paraphernalia and spells. This film also offers something new in that it looks at the Muggle or No-Maj world in combination and conflict with the magical, when Newt runs into a would-be baker named Jacob Kowalski, a bump that sets the events of the film in motion when their suitcases accidentally get swapped. Newt is Jacob’s introduction into the magical world, and we get to see that sense of wonder afresh through his eyes, and of course there is a greater emphasis on the magical animals, with the Niffler proving to be a great comic relief.
Speaking of Prohibition, 1920s America is one where magical folk in the US are far more restricted in their contacts with the mundane people, and there’s certainly political allegory to be had in the way the society is structured, with a magical community still looking to protect their pure bloodlines, and remain secreted away. There’s a New Salem movement among the No-Maj people, urging that the strange, the magical be hunted down and destroyed, and there’s a New York senator, son of a media magnate seeking re-election. Right in the middle of all this, a supernatural force is wreaking havoc through the city, which is just the trigger that’s needed to heighten tensions to snapping point.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a wonderful adventure, with engaging characters and a really well thought out story. There’s humour, there’s action, drama and even a little romance, as well as more than a few twists and surprises as it unfolds. It also does a great job in setting the stage for the next instalment of the story of Newt Scamander. It goes without saying that the film looks and sounds fantastic on this Blu-ray. Very much recommended.