Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Rowling’s magic is back

JK Rowling has a knack of using her literature as a metaphor to draw attention to real issues. In the past, with Harry Potter, she has commentedon bigotry, intolerance and used the desire for ‘pure wizard blood’ as an allegory for racial superiority. With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them , the author takes her first stab at screenwriting and upping the ante. She draws attention to human ignorance and the refusal to acknowledge animal conservation among other things, where a lack of information often translates to fear and abject dismissal of equal rights.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, originally is a textbook at the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Potter-universe where British magic folk including Harry Potter and his friends studied. Rowling goes back 70 years before Potter’s time to tell people about the textbook’s origins and its author’s life and times. The film, chronicles the adventures of Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) journey to America to release a trafficked Thunderbird in Arizona. However, upon his arrival in New York, it turns out that an unknown entity is already wreaking havoc on the city. Subsequently, some of the magical creatures housed in the British wizard’s seemingly pit-less suitcase escape.

Following some drama and misunderstandings, our earnest protagonist is accused of being responsible for the catastrophe in New York. With the help of Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein a former auror at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA); Tina’s younger sister Queenie; and a no-maj (non-magical) factory worker named Jacob Kowalski who yearns to be a baker; Scamander must rescue his creature friends from the clutches of humans. Simultaneously, the evil force destroying the city is revealed to be an Obscurial, a parasitic force that uses children as hosts. Percival Graves (played by a suave and menacing Colin Farrell), a high-ranking auror and the director of magical security for MACUSA, is in charge of the investigation. But his inexplicably heightened interest in the Obscurial seems suspect, especially when he manipulates an innocent orphan boy Credence (Ezra Miller) who’s looking to be saved from his pathetic situation.

Director: David Yates

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell

Run time: 133 mins

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s creatures are loose in New York while an evil force is wreaking havoc in the city. He must save the day and his animals.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is spectacular to look at, the effects will blow fans and the uninitiated away. Combat scenes with teleportation executed at break-neck speeds have the audience’s eyeballs whizzing all over the big screen albeit without any complaint. Then there’s the breath-taking world inside Scamander’s suitcase where his creatures live. The highlight of course is watching Rowling’s imagination come to fruition: the animals and creatures. Whether it’s the sneaky niffler, a little fur ball with a penchant for everything shiny or the thunderbird, a magnificent magnified eagle-like bird with an enchantingly elongated tail, Scamander’s friends are all beautiful. Watching Redmayne as the introverted and unassuming magizoologist care and worry about the animals is endearing, even if you’re not a lover of creatures big and small. The film will more than once, furiously tug on your heartstrings.

However , Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not great because of its cinematic excellence. The plot is at most competent and the characters can’t do much but play second fiddle to the real stars of the films: the animals and special effects. Instead of the amplified focus on retrieving Scamander’s creatures, perhaps the film could have elaborated on other aspects. For instance, expand on the existing animosity between magical and no-maj (muggles in Potter speak) folk in the city, particularly the extremist group New Salem Philanthropic Society (the NSPS, or The Second-Salemers) led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) whose aim is to expose and eradicate witches and wizards.

For his part David Yates who gave us the last four Harry Potter films does a fantastic job of directing a feature that seamlessly transitions between humorous, dark and even sinister: there are explicit allusions to child abuse, death sentences, and an extremist group looking to annihilate wizards and witches. And its shortcomings notwithstanding, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is thoroughly enigmatic and essential to be experienced on the big screen.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2022 7:01:00 pm |