Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Movie Analysis and Review (video)

Awhile back I did a video on what is technically a prequel to the Harry Potter novel series, a movie called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. With the screenplay penned by series author J.K. Rowling (rather than a screenwriter adapting one of her books), the film is interesting for several reasons. First, it isn’t actually an adaption of Rowling’s book, it is more the story of the fictional character that “wrote” that book, which is a companion book to the main 7 book Harry Potter book sequence. Second, it breaks many of the “Rules” of modern cinema, avoiding the tropes of “Save the Cat” and other screenwriting manuals.

Is that a good thing, though? Ultimately the movie starts out very slowly, performing actions that would, in prose, allow exposition that simply isn’t possible on the screen, where there is less chance for direct exposition (such as where the author explains places, names, terms, magic systems, etc.) and everything must be explained through dialogue (which can be stilted if acting as exposition) or visually, and these can often miss the audience in a way a book can’t.

Things pick up big time for the second half of the movie, but some elements of the ending (not the main element, but a few extra reveals and one superfluous problem solving action) don’t really make sense in the context of the movie, which doesn’t set up audience expectations for one of the revelations, and for the other uses an instance of Chekhov’s gun that isn’t set up naturally at all.

Another big failure is the acting, or perhaps the casting, acting, and directing of the actors as a combination, as most of the cast is incapable of delivering Rowling’s lines in a convincing way. The lead actor, Eddie Redmayne, who plays Newt Scamander (double lizards, bro!), plays the lead in such an awkward, borderline autistic way, with such a withdrawn and introverted set of mannerisms, that the character comes off as unlikable and cringey. It’s painful to watch him quickly mumble his dialogue, and he doesn’t ever seem to let up or grow throughout the movie. The female lead, Katherine Waterson, is better, but is held back by having to work opposite the odd performance of Redmayne, and there is very little chemistry between them on screen. Only Colin Farrel and Ron Perlman, established and experienced Hollywood actors, seem capable of holding a scene with their deliveries.

Oddly, because the film is both successful and a failure, I recommend watching it, as rarely are both of these things so easily visible and contrasting within a single film. Because it strays in its screenplay construction so far from what is typical of a modern movie, events actually seem unexpected, and though the first half is dull, the second half is full of tension and action that should entertain most people. Like the books, the plot is more about setting up the final climax than about providing a long series of rising tension events, and just that was a bit refreshing, though I think the execution leaves much to be desired.

David V. Stewart is the author of fantasy novel The Water of Awakening and Historical Fantasy novel Muramasa: Blood Drinker. He is also the main personality in eclectic music project Zul.

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