Unless you’ve been in an underground bunker for the last few months you’ll know that the release of J.K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is imminent. This Friday in fact. Along with Star Wars Rogue One, it’s tipped to be one of the top films of the year, so expectations were high as we fastened our seatbelts to drive around the M25 to the O2 for an advanced screening last night.
It turns out that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the perfect tonic for a two and a half hour car ride at an average speed of 20 miles an hour, followed by 40 minutes of queuing outside a cinema screen in a corridor bereft of air-conditioning but with no shortage of other people.
Yes, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I finally sat down in the cinema with Fifi, the boy and one of their Harry Potter mad friends yesterday but fortunately once the opening credits rolled, everything was put right. I’ll get it out of the way up front, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is, erm, fantastic.
Since Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is based around the concept of a textbook of magical creatures, it is able to create it’s own characters and story in an entirely different manner to a straightforward book adaptation, thereby neatly sidestepping any pacing issues that adapting a 500+ page novel into a two hour film might suffer from. To this end there is a fairly strong argument that it’s a better movie than the majority of the Harry Potter films because it doesn’t have to remain true to a narrative book whilst cutting massive sections of it out.
The story follows wizard and magizoologist Newt Scamander as he arrives in America to release a beast he’s freed from captivity. Through a series of amusing incidents, his magic briefcase that’s full of beasties gets swapped and a load of the creatures get released by mistake. Newt and his new made friends Jacob (a Muggle), Tina and her sister Queenie go through various scrapes to try and recover them, whilst the New York wizarding community also fight against unexplained manifestations of magic that threaten outright war.
Although there are a group of four lead characters, who you’ll see in the majority of posters, this film is really about Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne who seems to be doing his darnedest to channel Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, (costume, check, TARDIS/briefcase that’s bigger on the inside, check, wand/sonic screwdriver that gets him out of a tight corner, check) but then that’s not a bad thing and Redmayne is great.
I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, I’ve watched the films and am currently (tortuously) reading The Prison of Azkaban to the kids at a rate of two pages a night, but that didn’t matter as the story is self contained-there are continuity nods all the way through: Dumbledore is mentioned, apparently the wand maker from the HP films is name checked etc, but if you miss these, you’ve not missed out and they’re not shoehorned in too obviously.
The film looks wonderful, the 1920’s New York setting is done perfectly, there are plenty of great performances too and the characters interact well with the CGI, which helps make for a believable world. Since the film deals with adults, there is no need to explain everything to the protagonists, which at times hampered the Harry Potter films, everybody just gets on with stuff. The majority of the magic used is of the teleportation, things moving on their own, broken stuff repairing itself or wand waving followed by an explosion, so it doesn’t require exposition of what the spell is or means. This lets the plot flow without any unnatural pauses.
The film gets a thumbs up from me but to put it properly to the test, I asked the kids. Despite the film finishing at around quarter past nine on a school night, they loved it. The kids friend was literally bouncing up and down with excitement in her Harry Potter t-shirt afterwards (a continuation of the bouncing beforehand that had to stop once we sat down). The kids had a long discussion over the best of the beasts and the funniest way they were recaptured. Fifi said there were one of two scary bits that were quite intense but overall she loved it- she’s the one out of the three kids with the least Harry Potter exposure, so that bodes well the films mass appeal.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out on Friday 18 November, with a 12A rating.