Film: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, and Colin Farrell
Director: David Yates
IBTimes India Rating: 2/5
A film based on literature from one JK Rowling is nothing new: We have had eight of them before this, the last four of which have been directed by David Yates. Therefore, when word first came out that Rowling was putting forth an entirely new story based on the Harry Potter universe, and that it would be solely for the big screen, expectations ran high. They were pushed up even further when Yates was roped in to helm it.
Alas, Yates may have let a lot of people down. Sure, all the hallmarks of Rowling are there: A lot of magic, a message that people should live in harmony with others, and the deus ex machina that was part of the initial books of the Harry Potter stories. However, the narrative is affected by the absence of backing literature.
What happened with the earlier films was this: People would read the books, get their explanations and then go into the cinema hall prepared to be wowed by what was unfolding on the screen. So, if the films missed some details, there was enough explanations around.
Not this time. The Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them book that was released was just a glossary of 85 creatures. The film, henceforth referred to as Fantastic Beasts for brevity, has no such literature, and thus leaves around glaring plot holes that have no apparent explanation.
The story is interesting: Newt Scamander (Redmayne), whose eponymous book generations of Hogwarts students, including Harry Potter, have studied as mandatory text, is in the process of writing the manuscript and arrives in New York by ship for some purpose. However, many of the creatures he carries in his case escape from it due to a turn of events.
And, with the influence and infamy of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald -- the same one who Albus Dumbledore would go on to subdue and become best known for, according to the collectible cards that come with chocolate frogs -- rising in Europe, strange happenings take place in New York. And of course, Scamander and his beasts get blamed for it. That's how much we can tell you without giving out spoilers.
On the acting front, Redmayne has his moments, his near-autistic awkwardness with people but easy equation with the magical animals adding extra dimensions to the character. It also sets him apart from Gilderoy Lockhart, that poser who couldn't even control Cornish Pixies in class! The others are not all that great, though Dan Fogler manages to elicit a few chuckles.
The film is visually great, but is let down by the absence of a taut script, a thick plot and most damningly, the overuse of background music, which almost seems to beat the audience into submission when it comes to setting the mood for a scene. Sometimes it also leads the viewer in the exactly opposite direction!
Also, some of the philosophies and laws of the time -- the film is set in 1929 -- do seem jarring when it comes to modern sensibilities, but when the American wizarding world is progressive enough to have a black woman as president, the other ideas might also have done with an overhaul.
And the plot holes we had talked of are big enough to swallow entire stories! If wizards can apparate, why does Scamander need to use a ship to come to America? If there is a spell used to summon things and animals -- yes, Scamander actually uses Accio to summon an escaping platypus-like creature -- why can't it be used on the other creatures? These and a thousand other unanswered questions make Fantastic Beasts... a head-scratching watch.
Make no mistake, though. This is indeed an entertaining film, with some spectacular visuals, but only for adolescents and those who go to see it with that mindset. A more mature mind would ask for much more, and that's taking into consideration the small appearance by Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. One can only hope that Yates does a better job with the other four films in the franchise that have already been announced.