Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – Review

By JJ Marsh

A deep and thoughtful storyworld, this film deserves to be watched more than once. The terrific pace, sensory immersion and taut storytelling rockets the audience through this two-hour journey, leaving you wondering where the time went. Then watch it again to appreciate all those nuanced details of story, set, character, creatures and messages.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander

The story takes us to semi-familiar territory – the magical world introduced by Harry Potter – but in a very different time and place. This is New York in the 1920s and the wizarding world is under threat. Not just from the No-Maj (Muggle) community, but from malevolent forces within.

Diffident British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives off the boat with a special suitcase, stuffed with fantastical creatures. Beasts he can relate to, but people? Not so much. When a Niffler (platypus-cross-mole with a magpie personality) escapes, it leads to a chance encounter with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Their challenge is to safeguard the beasts while evading capture by the authorities, aided and abetted by Tina’s beautiful sister, mindreader Queenie (Alison Sudol).

Newt (Redmayne) and Tina (Katherine Waterston)

Glorious sets, jaw-dropping effects, a swooping soundtrack and cinematography in which every frame is a picture, this film has many layers. The adventure of the four main characters is a rollercoaster in itself, yet there are several powerful angles underpinning this world.

Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogel), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne)

Tolerance, suspicion, extremism, prejudice, conditioning, acceptance and repression all feature as part of a changing environment. Generalisations are magnified into threats while individual bias evaporates at the personal level. Manipulation and influence, via the character of Creedence (Ezra Miller), plumb a theme far scarier than any of the fantastical creatures. Set ninety years ago, this atmosphere has unsettling real world echoes, such as when the death penalty for a witch resembles a ducking stool.

Creedence (Ezra Miller) and Graves (Colin Farrell)

For Potter fans, references to the wizarding world abound. For those new to the magic, everything makes sense. For those feeling unsettled by less-than-magical reality, here be salutary reminders of common humanity and our duty to our fellow beasts.

You can enjoy this as two hours of fabulous escapist entertainment. But like Newt’s suitcase, if you lift the lid, there’s so much more inside.

Images courtesy of Warner Brothers

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