THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM"
Before there was Harry Potter, there was Newt Salander. The character, played by Eddie Redmayne, is the hero of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which comes to DVD and Blu-ray combo pack on March 28. Loyal Potter-philes will know that the boy wizard famously reads Newt's book seventy years after the events of this film. Even if Harry, Hermione, and Ron are nowhere to be found, Beasts proves that there is still a lot of life left in the cinematic adaptation of J.K. Rowling's world.
The story is set in 1926 New York, where a mysterious entity has been causing destruction in the city streets. This is problematic for wizards, as they are trying to keep a low profile from the No-Majs (i.e. normal non-magical people), some of whom are committed to permanently ridding the world of them. Newt arrives with no knowledge of what's happening. He's just trying to rescue a series of – you guessed it – fantastic beasts who have escaped. Nonetheless, he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of the drama after crossing paths with an aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (the superb Dan Fogler), and low-level Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) bureaucrat Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Colin Farrell plays Percival Graves, the Director of Magical Security for MACUSA. His job is to protect wizards.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them probably plays best if you're intimately familiar with Rowling's work. Her books are so vividly conceived that any movie based on them automatically has to condense the material. This can make it mildly difficult at times to pick up on some of the little plot details. But even if you aren't a scholar, the movie – written by the author herself – is straightforward enough that you can easily get the gist of what's happening.
And what's happening is a lot of fun. The film contains exciting magic battles, interesting-looking creatures, and a wonderful streak of humor. A film of this sort only works if it really makes the fantasy element come alive. Fantastic Beasts does that. Director David Yates, who helmed several of the Harry Potter installments, fundamentally understands how to translate Rowling's work so that it has an existence of its own, while still being faithful to the source material. He provides a brisk pace that keeps us moving from one joyously imaginative, visually spectacular sequence to the next. The film creates a wonderful fictional universe in which to get lost.
The actors do charming work across the board, with Redmayne and Waterston working up a humorous chemistry. Farrell provides an important touch of intensity, and Fogler perfectly serves as the entry point for the audience as Jacob, who takes in all the magical elements with wide-eyed wonder. Each of them brings a welcome human element to the otherworldly proceedings.
Even if not quite as enthralling as the best entries in the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts manages to deliver an appealing dose of what fans have come to expect from the Rowling adaptations. It's a solid piece of family entertainment.
( out of four)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them arrives on Blu-ray with a ton of supplementary materials to help you appreciate it even more. “Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins” is basically an overview of how this spinoff was conceived and planned. Rowling, Yates, and the cast members are interviewed.
From there, you will find a look at several key aspects of the production. Five different segments are devoted to the story's characters, seven to the creatures, and six to the design of the movie. Viewed collectively, they help you to understand the vast amount of imagination (and astonishing FX skill) that went into bringing Rowling's work to the screen. These segments are impressively thorough.
Finally, there eleven deleted scenes totaling almost fifteen minutes. While these bits may not have made it into the finished product, they provide a little more story detail that fans will enjoy seeing.
The picture and sound quality on the Blu-ray are superb, helping to make Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a satisfying viewing experience.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. The running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!