I wonder if J.K. Rowling had seen the made-for-HBO film, Cast A Deadly Spell (1991), because I found myself reminded of it as I watched this latest adaptation of one of her novels set in the Harry Potter universe. Both films are set in the 30s, and both have ordinary humans intermingling with “magic-users,” except in Cast the users of magic freely interact with those who don’t, in Fantastic Beasts there are strict rules against witches and wizards socializing with “No-Majs” ( short for “no magic.” In Britain witches refer to ordinary humans as “muggles”). These rules are so strict that most of the non-magic using public in 1930s New York doesn’t even know they co-exist with them. And finally both movies have magical beasts. In Cast it’s unicorns, gremlins, vampires and werewolves, in Fantastic Beasts they’re more extraordinary thanks to Rowling’s imagination.
The main plot of Fantastic Beasts revolves around Brit wizard, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who’s writing a book (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) about the care of magical creatures and he’s come to America to release one of them, a Thunderbird, back into it’s natural habitat which just so happens to be the wilds of Arizona, but first he needs to make a stop-over in New York to get a birthday present, a magical “pup” from a breeder in the city. But he quickly learns owning magical creatures is forbidden in the U.S. Incidentally, he keeps all his creatures in his suitcase, a magical suitcase that acts a lot like the Tardis in Doctor Who lore in that it’s a hell of a lot bigger on the inside. Obviously, the suitcase is just a magical (and portable) doorway that leads to a place similar to a zoo, minus the cages, where Newt keeps all the fantastic beasts he takes care of and studies. Most of them have free reign to go where they please, but some have their own habitats they can be visited in. These “magical creatures” are all manner of flora and fauna, including fantastic forms of insect life! This is one of the reasons I loved the movie, on one level it’s a “monster movie,” albeit a benevolent one, and I’ve loved monster movies and creature features since I was a kid. I’ve also loved movies and books that center on creatures of ancient lore and Rowling and company has come up with some incredible looking “beasts.”
Newt bumps into a No-Maj by the name of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who wants to open up a bakery, but can’t get a loan due to the fact that he has no collateral. He has a suitcase that looks just like Newts and during an encounter early on he mistakenly takes Newts home with him. Opening it up releases three creatures which now Newt has to scour the city to reclaim. Like Britain’s Ministry Of Magic America has its own version, it’s based in New York and called the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). They also have their own “agents” that work secretly to make sure magic and non-magic beings stay ignorant. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is one of these “agents” and she arrests Newt for the magical beasts he isn’t supposed to be in possession of and takes him to the MACUSA headquarters.
New York is suffering from strange events, destruction of real estate by an invisible force that threatens to expose the magical side of New York. There are some No-Majs who believe witches and wizards are among us, and some of these No-Majs are not sympathetic to this side of life, for in the past humans have hunted down and killed witches (see the Salem witch trials to get a good feel of this). Enter Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and her creepy adopted son, Credence (Ezra Miller), and daughters, Modesty (Faith Wood-Blagrove) and Chastity (Jenn Murray). Barebone strikes me as a religious nut, not to mention strict and abusive for she enjoys whipping Credence with a belt when he disobeys her. She also enjoys speaking in public and distributing flyers that warn of the “evil witches among us.”
Of course, MACUSA blames Newt for these “disturbances” New York is having thinking his escaped animals are doing it, but the truth is much more sinister. And that truth eventually kills a prominent senator, but he wasn’t chosen at random by this unseen tornado of a force. Our first glimpse of this force is among Newt’s animals in a specially designed arctic landscape where a bubble of roiling darkness floats about. That roiling darkness is an Obscurus, and what’s attacking the city at random is an extremely powerful version of that. What’s an Obscurus you ask? Well, it seems to afflict young children of the “magic-using” variety. If a witch/wizard tries to suppress his or her abilities they turn on the person becoming a kind of magical parasite that will eventually kill the host. The host in times of emotional instability will turn into this roiling cloud of tendrils and lash out destructively. Obscuruses seem to afflict children only and rarely live past the age of ten, the one afflicting New York is stronger because it belongs to Credence, who is supposed to be a No-Maj. He had magical ancestors but he himself has no magical ability at least that’s what the human villain of the movie, Percival Graves (Collin Farrell), tells him. Apparently, what I gleaned from Graves intentions was that he was looking to weaponize the Obscurus, and wrongly assumed one of Credence’s sisters was the owner of this “parasite.”
Lord Voldemort was the main personification of evil in the Harry Potter novels and movies and Fantastic Beasts also has a kind of counterpart, though it remains to be seen if this Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) becomes as infamously evil as Voldemort. He’s seen in the prologue killing some wizards, then isn’t seen again until the movie’s closing moments, Depp playing this character isn’t revealed until the final moments of the movie either and I was thoroughly (and pleasantly) shocked to see him. Actually I was even surprised to see Farrell was in this too. I didn’t pay too much attention to all the trailers when it first came out, having been all Pottered out by the previous franchise, but seeing how original this new spin-off is I’m on board now with whatever more they have in store for these characters.
On March 28th Warner Brothers releases Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in several editions: DVD/Blu-ray Combo, solo DVD, 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD, 3D Blu-ray/Bu-ray Combo, Amazon Exclusive/Niffler Figurine/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen high definition—English Dolby Atmos, 7.1 English Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 French (Canada) Dolby Digital, 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital, 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital, 5.1
English Dolby Digital—English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish subs
Extras included . . .
- Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins! (15:31)
- The Magizoologist (4;14)
- The Goldstein Sisters (5:04)
- The New Salemers (4:41)
- The No-Maj Baker (4:42)
- The President and the Auror (5:37)
- Meet the Fantastic Beasts (4:17)
- Bowtruckle (2;36)
- Demiguise (2:20)
- Erumpent (3:42)
- Niffler (2:29)
- Occamy (3:09)
- Thunderbird (2:24)
- Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts (360°) (5:54)
- New York City (360°) (7:25)
- MACUSA (360°) (7:06)
- Newt’s Magical Case (360°) (4:59)
- The Shaw Banquet (4:29)
- The Blind Pig (360°) (4:39)
- Deleted Scenes (11 scenes) (14:33)
I highly recommend this movie, and for those not aware they are planning a total of five movies in this franchise!