Also known as “Thanksgiving Travels, part 2″ for those of you waiting for an actual part two to my story from Monday.
The very first night we were in WA, my parents gave us the night off and babysat the grandkids so we could all go see a movie together. We decided on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which, if I’m being totally honest, wasn’t a movie that was ever seriously on my radar. I had heard rumblings, but with it not being based on one of the books, I just couldn’t quite muster the excitement necessary. However, when Derek and I went to see Doctor Strange (review coming soon!) we saw the most recent trailer and a sudden and unexpected quiver of curiosity stirred in my heart. It might actually be fun to return to the world of Harry Potter… I thought. Even if Harry Potter isn’t in it.
Also, my sister and brother are fellow fans of Harry Potter, and so I thought that if I did venture back to that world, I would rather do so in no one else’s company.
How was that for a convoluted way of saying something that is really rather simple?
This is one of those movies where I feel like the creators just missed the mark of greatness. The visuals were gorgeous. The special effects were fantastic. The creatures were really fun and it was a treat to get to see some of the made-up mythical beasts of Rowling’s world that are talked about in the HP books but never made it onto the big screen before. It was also fun to hear little snippets that tied into the HP series: mentions of Grindlewald and Dumbledore and the very fact that the main character is the eventual author of the book that tries to eat anyone who opens it improperly…
There were some beautiful moments in the movie. Sweet, touching moments that got me a little choked up. There was a brilliance to the fact that this is an original screenplay that is not based on any book, in that nobody can walk away from it saying, “Well, that was good… but the book is better.” It didn’t feel like I was missing out on any of the story, because this is all the story there is.
But there were also some very awkward and embarrassing moments in the movie that were really unnecessary.
And there was a darkness to the movie that was almost overwhelming. A darkness unlike that of the type that shows up in the HP books/movies. Don’t get me wrong, there is darkness in Harry Potter, as well. But it’s a “good vs. evil” sort of fantasy darkness that is clearly defined and more akin to the darkness of the White Witch of Narnia or Sauron/Saruman/Wormtongue of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
And there was a meandering nature to the plot that makes it incredibly difficult to explain.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is NOT a movie for children. Set in America (of all places) in the early 19oos, meet Newt Scamander (yes, the eventual author of the book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”). A British wizard, he is arriving in America with a strange briefcase for reasons of his own.
But America is not like the British wizarding world. There are strict rules about staying separate from “no-majs” (the American term for “muggles”) and a fear that the non-mages might wage war upon and even drive into extinction the wizards should they find out about them.
Add into the mix an extremely creepy, Puritanical descendant of Abigail Williams if there ever was one (okay, so I’m making that up, nowhere in the movie is Abigail Williams mentioned… and if you don’t get that reference you really need to go read The Crucible). This woman is never really explained, but she is a stern, witch-hating and witch-hunting woman who runs a soup kitchen? Adopts foster children in order to make their lives miserable? I’m still not entirely certain what her raison d’etre was, except that her role as abusive adoptive mother is important to the back-story of a character who doesn’t appear to be important until the last 10 or so minutes of the movie.
But Newt is just trying to get to Arizona. Not very successfully, I might add… nor is that the point of the story.
And that’s about all I can say about the plot without giving spoilers.
I told you the plot was meandering. And convoluted.
Here were the things I loved about the movie:
Newt Scamander. The man himself. Not only did the actor do a fantastic job portraying the character, but the character himself was, simply put, ultimately extremely likable. Sweet, kind, a bit absent-minded-seeming, respectful and polite, but not without a heroic amount of courage and gumption when the situation requires it… Newt is exactly the sort of friend everyone needs in their lives. You could see glimmerings of Hagrid in him from time to time, without the ridiculousness that Hagrid sometimes displays.
Jacob. From moment one, Jacob absolutely stole every scene he was in. Which is the highest of compliments considering that Jacob is a no-maj who at first glance could appear to be unexceptionally plain and boring. But the character gets swept up in Newt’s wake and gamely plunges into this crazy world of wizarding with the wide-eyed gumption of a child diving into a new game. Jacob’s character is a reflection of the audience, the people who love the Harry Potter books, who step into that world of fiction and just enjoy the experience of glimpsing a fantastical realm beyond belief.
Collin Farrell. I just really like the actor, no matter who he plays. He always does a good job, and Fantastic Beasts is no exception.
The fantastic beasts themselves. I do wish the movie had been more about them, and not so much about all the other stuff going on in New York (and why did it have to be New York? Doesn’t anything ever happen in any other part of the country?) but what we do get to see of these creatures is beautiful.
Now, for what I didn’t like:
I didn’t like how much the wizarding world intruded upon the real world. Bringing the story to America and mixing it with actual historical events (such as hinting at the Salem witch trials) made it feel a lot less like a portal fantasy and a bit too much like the story was taking a step towards the audience. The brilliance of the Harry Potter stories is that most of the story takes place in “Hogwarts Land” which one can only get to through a brick wall if one knows where to look and then hop on a train that’s hidden to anyone who isn’t a wizard. Though some of the story takes place in England, most of it feels like stepping “through the wardrobe” so to speak, and the bits that leak out into the real world are like Queen Jadis in the Magician’s Nephew escaping from her own world to ours… a place she doesn’t belong. This movie lost that feel and brought the wizarding world into a place that is all-too-familiar, despite taking place 90 years in the past.
The meandering nature of the plot was a little difficult to follow and at times grew a bit boring, to be honest.
I felt that they spent far too much time on showing us “magic” at work and all the amazing things wizards can do, as well as too much time on the creepy woman passing out fliers, and too much time on special effects in general and not enough time on character development and storyline.
So… where would I rate Fantastic Beasts? This is painful, because I really wanted to like this movie. I was hoping for a return to the wizarding world like I experienced the first time I read Harry Potter (which ended in me throwing the book across the room in frustration and muttering, “Drat. That was really good!”) I enjoyed the movie, but I can’t really say that I liked it. I liked parts of it…. so… probably 3 Dragon Eggs is all I can muster. And those are all for Newt and Jacob and the creatures themselves… because the rest of the plot/movie probably would have been 2 Dragon Eggs without them.