“You’re an interesting man, Mr. Scamander. Just like your suitcase, I think there’s more to you than meets the eye. Kicked out of Hogwarts for endangering human life with a beast, yet one of your teachers argued strongly against your expulsion. I wonder… what makes Albus Dumbledore so fond of you, Mr. Scamander?”
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, directed by David Yates in 2016, is a British and American fantasy movie that acts as another instalment in the ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise. Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a British wizard who arrives in New York City with a menagerie of magical creatures inside his dimensionally transcendental suitcase. When there, he finds himself embroiled in the machinations of the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald who is trying to foster discord between the magical and non-magical inhabitants using a possessed child. Scamander’s (and Manhattan’s) troubles increase as a number of his creatures escape to wreak havoc on the city. It’s a colourful film, slightly mind-bending in the density of the CGI details – but once you tune in to the style of Yates’s direction you find yourself absorbed by this world. Every frame seems to be packed with rich details tying the story in to a wider world, seeding information for future films and dropping in-joke references to the earlier movies. J K Rowling, the author, is clearly relishing the opportunity to inject her story with a contemporary political message and uses the American setting to critique some of right-wing policies of that country, so the film is laced with anti-death penalty, anti-racist and anti-gun messages. I found that this became confused in the second half, however, and by the end of the film it was unclear who Rowling was actually criticising. This is all the more troubling as the film ends with a morally dark event that doesn’t seem to have the expected effect on the characters. But the film is all about the universe it is set in and the visual spectacle that allows you to be immersed in this universe. As the first movie of a series, it’s a perfect introduction.
Would I recommend it? Yes – if you don’t watch it, and don’t like the new ‘Star Wars’ films, then you might not have anything to see in the cinema at Christmas. It’s a visually rich movie with surprisingly dark moments that provides a fresh take on the Harry Potter story.