Film review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, from ‘Built For Speed’

Set in the 1920’s JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel (of sorts) to the phenomenally successful Harry Potter films. Prequels to blockbuster film franchises have a dubious history, the horrible Star Wars prequels and erratic Hobbit films being an example. One of the problems is that the prequels are tantalisingly close but just out of reach of the much loved world of the original films. Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts also suffers the prequel curse. With its slow, lumbering and disjointed plot and poor character development it fails to enchant like the Potter films.

Scripted by Rowling, the film centres on former Hogwarts alumnus Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a kind of magical Charles Darwin/ Dr Doolittle/ David Attenborough whose job is preserve strange wonderful beasts which range from cheeky stick insects to larcenous platypuses to gigantic rhinoceroses and humungous bird creatures. Scamander’s beast guide from which comes this film’s title was mentioned in the Potter series as a Hogwart’s textbook. Following one expedition Scamander stops over in New York where a mix up with factory worker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) – a muggle or as the American wizards call them ‘no maj’ – leads to various beasts being released from Scamander’s magical suitcase. When the local wizards link this mishap to a series of destructive events perpetrated by a mysterious unseen force, wizard cop Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is sent to investigate Scamander. Soon they and the streetwise Kowalski find themselves pitted against Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a Senior Director of magical security and the strange young lad Percival seems to have taken under his wing who seems to be connected to attacks.

The Harry Potter films were convoluted and at times head scratching for Potter neophytes but their plot intricacies and red herrings were fun, intriguing and part of a fascinating broader mythology. The plot of Beasts on the other hand is simply a mess. The fragmented story never gains momentum and too often wallows in dull indulgent nerve-shatteringly loud special effects sequences.  Rowling dotted the story with a few vaguely interesting references to political issues such as early 20th century (and possibly contemporary) fascism, social division and intolerance but these aren’t developed satisfactorily.

Sadly, the characters, despite the cast’s vigorous performances aren’t very interesting. Redmayne’s Newt Scamander has none of the charm of Harry and friends while the rest are almost forgettable. The exception is Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein, Tina’s mind reading sister who does a perky, amusing take on a stereotypical New York platinum blonde of the era. No one in this film, however, comes close to creating the sort of indelible characters we saw from Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes or the late Alan Rickman in the Potter films.

The film also looks dull. In trying to capture the look of the 1920’s director David Yates has opted for a sepia toned image which often just looks mud brown. A grainy texture, which at times looks out of focus, deprives the film of sparkle.

The film contains a few exciting moments involving a strange monster from the id and some of the depictions of Scamander’s magic are inventive but for people expecting the Potter magic this long meandering film will be let down.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Fantasy/ adventure.

Classification: M.

Director(s): David Yates.

Release date: 17th Oct 2016.

Running time: 133 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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