FULL DISCLAIMER, THIS REVIEW FEATURES MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS
So last Sunday I convinced my mum to take me to the cinema to see the film that everyone is talking about. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them was our long awaited ticket back onto the Hogwarts Express and back into this incredibly crafted world of magic. Partly because I hate spoilers and partly because I seem to be ignorant of the media and world events when I’m at university, I had deliberately not looked into anything about the film. Honestly, I was skeptical. I was also cynical as to the reasons behind the creation of this spin-off series yet I also wanted to prolong this magical world that became a staple of my childhood and later years. It was a no-brainer that I had to see this!
I think it’s fair to say that, if you were going to speak to members of my generation, you wouldn’t get far before you’d find an avid fan who knows more about the ins and outs of Herbology than Trigonometry. Born in 1997, I feel I can say that I am qualified to claim that I’ve grown up with this world and am unashamedly a complete PotterHead. J. K Rowling created a world so vivid that we weren’t just transported there, we believed (and sometimes wished) it could be real.
I’ve not just read the Harry Potter books, I’ve read them cover to cover more times than I’d care to admit! Friends eventually grew tired of my constant insistence that we would ‘play Hogwarts’ (I was always Ginny, for some reason she appealed to my tomboy and sassy attitude more than the bookish, pious Hermione!). Once I got very bored during wet play and decided to compile a list of all the Harry Potter Spells I could think of. I then proceeded to invent my own – feel free to judge me, I do! My teachers eventually stepped in when I’d ended up in the medical room one too many times after running into walls trying to reach Platform 9 3/4.
It didn’t stop at just reading the novels and see the films, friends and family would often buy me memorabilia and related items as gifts, my obsession was so well known. I owned all of the related books that J. K Rowling published such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages. Personally, I think J. K Rowling should create the other textbooks referred to through the series such as A History of Magic or The Standard Book of Spells. They would be immediate bestsellers as the fan base is always itching for more information to continue to build the picture of this imaginary world.
One of the books I owned was marketed as Harry’s textbook for Care of Magical Creatures: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fortunately I did own it because it since seems to have sold out of all major retailers! The book was full of lists of all these imaginary magical creatures, definitions and diagrams and Rowling’s trademark witty humour. My excitement was palpable when it was first revealed there would be a film made about these creatures and the adventures of the author: Newt Scamander.
So, onto the actual film! The news of Eddie Redmayne’s casting sent my girly heart into a little bit of a flutter. He plays the unlikely hero as a shy, bashful and probably somewhere ‘on the spectrum’ Newt who simply cares about the welfare of the creatures he keeps inside his Mary Poppins style suitcase. The basic plot revolves around the escape of some of these creatures and their pantomime-esque recapture. The creatures include a kleptomaniac duck billed platypus called a Niffler; a vanishing sloth like creature known as a Demiguise, affectionally named Dougal by Newt, and a rampant and horny rhinoceros (see what I did there 😉 ) known as an Erumpent – mentioned in The Deathly Hallows as Xenophilius has one in his collection that he is unaware can explode at a light touch.
Redmayne is supported by as cast of relatively unknown actors throughout his adventures; a disgraced Auror named Tina (Katherine Waterston), her younger sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) who can read minds and embodies the sterotype of a 1920’s ‘flapper’ and a very normal ‘No Maj’ (the American version of a Muggle) who gets wrapped up the events after meeting Newt in a bank to get a loan for his bakery (Jacob Kowalski). These are our heroes but there are other groups such as a group of children who spread messages about witches and evil featuring the terrifying Ezra Miller as a boy named Credence who is being used by an official officer, Graves (Colin Farrell) to seek out a child with immense powers – the reason for is revealed later…
I remember hearing about an open casting call several years ago for a young girl to play the character of Modesty (played by Faith Wood Blagrove). “Could you be the next Emma Watson?” was splashed across the news as casting directors searched for a young girl with a ‘haunted look’. This was our first clue into the nature of the film and the key part that the children would hold, again, within the franchise. I won’t lie to you, I was (to quote Moaning Myrtle herself) DISTRAUGHT! Too young at the casting of Harry Potter, to old at the casting of Fantastic Beasts! Maybe my time will come though…
All I knew of the film from a short exert with Rowling was that fans of the series would work out where the story was going. Clearly I’m not as much of a fan as I thought! The plot of the escapade and introduction of these magical creatures running amok in 1920’s New York was nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the true story she wished to tell. The feeling when the opening sequences of the film began was like coming home, quick snapshots of the headlines from the Daily Prophet reminiscent of The Order of The Phoenix. But I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t even suspected the real reason for the story being set in this era.
It seems that rather than just being a spin off to grant fans a much desired door back into this world, J.K Rowling wants to explore a character only mentioned briefly towards the end of the original series but whom had a undeniable influence on the entire story. Whereas my generation grew up in fear of Voldermort and his, lack of, nose, today’s youngsters will be terrified of Gellert Grindlewald, the original dark wizard who makes Voldermort look like a Pygmy Puff.
The biggest shock for me was a cameo appearance at the end of the film. As I previously said, I’d not seen any news or spoilers about the film. As Colin Farrell’s character, Graves, was arrested, I fully believed he was Grindlewald from evidence within the film – the main point being him giving the young boy Credence a necklace bearing the symbol of The Deathly Hallows. This was just another reference to the earlier films which had the audience gasping in recognition. There’s still a few to be answered though, especially the mention of a girl with the name ‘Lestrange’ and why Newt carries a photo of her.
Yet the biggest shock was when it was revealed that Grindlewald was in disguise as Graves. As the film was going on, I found myself thinking that, with the gravitas of the Potter series, I half expected Grindlewald to be played by a bigger name than Colin Farrell. It turned out I was right. Since seeing the film I have discovered that there has been controversy in the media with the casting of Johnny Depp in this role thanks to recent accusations of domestic assault to his ex wife. However, as I had heard nothing of the casting I fully admit I sat in the theatre mouthing OH MY GOD when he was revealed for 30 seconds. It’s since been revealed his story will continue through this series, culminating in a battle between Grindlewald and Dumbledore; as mentioned in the original books. I can’t think of anyone better to create the villainous character than Depp (but who will be Dumbledore?….).
Which leads me onto my final thought. Before I watched the film, I fully admit I felt that it was a money making venture which would hit Number One in box offices worldwide purely based off the Potter fanbase. Then, once I heard that this would be the first of five films, I was even more convinced that this was the case. After all, The Harry Potter Franchise was where the idea of splitting a book into separate Part One and Part Two films began (admittedly this was needed, don’t even get me started on the Hunger Games!). But what I’ve realised since last week was that the film has sown the seeds for a bigger franchise, but I do not mind. The film left me with so many unanswered questions!
If the story had primarily been focused around the creatures I would have thought the purpose was money. However we cannot dispute that the film has been meticulously planned down to the minute and seemingly insignificantly details. Take the introduction of the Obscurus, a dark matter which is created when young children suppress their magic to an extent it can end up killing them, has clearly been used to explain the death of Dumbledore’s younger sister Ariana as mentioned in previous books. This has been planned for a long time. Once again, the depth of J.K Rowling’s imagination never fails to astonish and inspire me.
So where next? Newt has to come back for Tina purely to satisfy all of the romantics amongst us (although the preface to the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does actually hint at the future for the pair). However, I think what the fans are most anxious to explore is the mention of the American Wizarding School: Ilvermorny. Could we finally be going back to Hogwarts as well? There are so many possible directions for the series to take and I’m sure a hoard of new characters and creatures along the way. With four more films to go, I think that’s the next eight years sorted for me!