J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter has won her plaudits in both the literary and cinematic world. A net worth £600 million, 400 million ‘Harry Potter’ copies sold, eight on-screen adaptations, yet it’s the cinematic release of her unsung ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’ which shows the zenith of her popularity. Four-time Harry Potter director David Yates returns to direct Rowling’s spin-off (she receives credit as screenwriter). The result is the weakest entry yet filmed in the Potterverse.
Directed by: David Yates
With: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudel, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton and Jon Voight.
Prequels are a strange breed. Rare are they invited; rarer still are they loved. Star Wars dripped itself in uninvited characterisation; Monsters University embellished itself in an uninteresting era, Prometheus and Red Dragon solely made to re-establish the credibility of their respective franchises. Fantastic Beasts is none of those things; it takes viewers away from the actors they have known and cherished for fifteen years, placing them away from modern day Hogwarts to 1920’s New York. It doesn’t make this prequel any more successful.
Laden with a story only loosely based on Rowling’s uninteresting 2001 book, the film adorns itself with effervescent visuals and sight gags galore, the movie’s shine and glean is harrowed by the film’s distinctly uninteresting story, despite two-time Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne’s earnest attempts to keep the plot flowing.
Newt Scamander, a socially inept British wizard, and full-time animal conservationist wanders through New York, bewildered by its beauty. Bumping into Jacob Kowalski, the pair accidentally picks the others suitcases and placate New York to a world of magic.
Though the plot may have tinges of slapstick masterpieces a la ‘What’s Up Doc?’ and ‘Bringing Up Baby’ the film wheezes through gag by gag with the wit of an unloved season, as desperate joke follows unlaughable punchline. “Mr. Scamander, do you know anything about the wizarding community in America?” Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) informs Scamander. “We don’t like things loose.” The joke is meant to distinguish Anglo and American differences, yet it’s an eye-roller Benny Hill would have veered away from. Worse still comes with Redmayne’s befuddlement over a so-called No-Mag (No-Magic) instead of the more familiar British equivalent Muggle – it’s as tedious as it sounds! Rowling, never a natural wit, (many of the Harry Potter’s funniest quips came courtesy of the franchise’s directors or screenwriter Steve Kloves) grasps at straws as strongly as her wizarding characters grasp their wands.
As befitting the Potterverse (especially the films of Yates), the special effects have an ethereal value to them, Sparky in their appearance, clamorous in their delivery, a testament to the development of the appearance of spells since Daniel Radcliffe picked up his wand in 2001. Better still are the variety of creatures that adorn Scamander’s suitcase (an impressive array of CGI landscapes and magical animals). Scamander’s costumes entwine themselves in colors both vintage and fluorescent, the other wizards and witches match the promising colors. Much of the film is wonderfully 3-D, save for some of the performances, a bored Colin Farrell amassing the movie, a foolishly under-used Johnny Depp a detriment to the film. Ezra Miller throws a fine performance as villainous student Credence, though he too is the prisoner to the film’s lack of padding. It is, however, a pleasure to see Jon Voight, his seventies charisma and nineties maturity at the forefront.
Redmayne gives a strong performance to a character written with none of the depth Harry Potter has, and comes across flat and perhaps, a little, superficial. Waterson struggles with her character (an uninspiring actress, it’s surprising the part wasn’t awarded to a stronger American female), though Dan Fogler brings the necessary ballast to Kowalski, his part the strongest, and certainly the most memorable, of the three.
Sagging at a ridiculously over-long 133 minutes, the film slows itself in a florre of exposition and world building (Beasts is expected to be the first of a proposed trilogy), boring and ignoring its intended audiences in the process, further proof that a flogged horse can only produce so many results (The Hobbit films, anyone?). Transatlantic novelties quickly fall in the first three minutes, leaving a further, dull 130 to sit through. Rowling herself couldn’t save the prequel!