I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I just came back from watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Oddly enough, Little Satis didn’t particularly want to see it, though I’m not certain why; he’s loved everything related to Harry Potter for years.
In any case, I went in with deliberately low expectations, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a spin-off. Spin-offs are rarely any good (in my experience). Second, it’s not a book. And whilst the Harry Potter series is certainly not without its flaws, J.K. Rowling clearly proved herself as a fantastic author of books. The films that followed were better or worse, depending on the movie, but they couldn’t compare to the books, simply because they aren’t books. Adaptations, by necessity, are abbreviated.
In my estimation, she’s outdone herself.
And I have to say, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Granted, Rowling had some practice with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in terms of writing for the stage, but this is, to my understanding, her first attempt at developing a fully-fledged screenplay, dedicated to being seen on film.
And in my estimation, she’s outdone herself. I just finished writing an article about character development for the review blog Girl Who Reads (look for it on Friday!), and I rather wish I had had this movie to talk about in terms of what that looks like as a success. Despite introducing us to an almost entirely new set of characters (even Gellert Grindlewald is only referenced in the Harry Potter books), Rowling has managed to create fully living, breathing characters for whom we feel empathy, concern, and—dare I say it—love. Newt Scamander (portrayed admirably by Eddie Redmayne) is hardly a great wizard, but holds a whimsical charm that I can only compare to Bilbo Baggins—a character of values, morals and oddities. Every other character is equally well fleshed-out, with hints of backstory that are never overdone, nor ham-fisted down our throats.
The pacing is equally excellent, perhaps even better than that of her novels: whilst there is plenty of action to entertain, there are also serenely calm and beautifully charming moments that allow us to breathe, take in the surroundings, and experience once more the wizarding world that Rowling has so deftly created.
If this is Rowling’s first attempt at a screenplay, I’m excited to see what else she has in store for us. Unlike the Star Wars universe (which I also talk about on Friday), this feels like a natural expansion of the universe that we’ve come to love so dearly. There are, of course, references for the fans, but again they are not overt or in your face, and fit in well with the overall plot and pacing of the story.
Little Satis was ultimately glad to have seen the movie, and my wife, who’s hardly the biggest Potter fan in the world, enjoyed it as well. It’s one I would gladly watch again, and will proudly sit alongside the previous eight films as part of what I hope will become an ever-growing world of wizards and witches.