By Thomas Gillen
Arts & Entertainment Editor
After a five-year absence from the big screen, J.K. Rowling brings audiences back to the world of Harry Potter with her new movie, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Taking place in 1926 New York instead of modern-day England, the film is a prequel to the Harry Potter series and contains Rowling’s first screenplay. While she is the author of the Harry Potter books, Steve Kloves and Michael Goldenberg wrote the screenplays for the movies.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was originally published as a book in 2001, Rowling used the name Newt Scamander, who is the main character of the movie because the book was published as the actual textbook used by Harry Potter in the novels. The movie is not based on the book like Harry Potter was, but is an original story crafted by Rowling.
This is the first of a five-film franchise planned by Rowling and Warner Bros. studios that will see the series stretch from 1926-1945 and will include pivotal characters such as Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander; Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein; Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski; Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein and Colin Farrell as Graves. Ezra Miller and Jon Voight also play supporting roles.
Newt Scamander is a wizard who travels the world collecting different types of magical creatures and stops by New York on his way to Arizona. While in New York, his creatures are accidentally set loose and he must enlist the help of witches Tina and Queenie Goldstein, sisters who work at the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), and non-wizard Jacob. Together they must return to find Newt’s creatures while avoiding the detection of Percival Graves, the Director of Magical Security at MACUSA.
A strength of the movie is the performances of the actors, particularly Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler. Redmayne easily takes the franchise reigns from Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe and anchors the Fantastic Beasts series behind his performance. He successfully portrays Newt’s insecurity around humans and is able to contrast that aspect of his personality with his more outgoing nature while spending time with his creatures.
Fogler is able to take what could have been a typical side character and elevate him to one of the core characters by the end of the movie. While Fogler’s performance originally starts out as comedic, he becomes more reserved and sympathetic as several emotional moments throughout the movie revolve around his character.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” also benefits from being written by J.K. Rowling instead of a screenwriter unfamiliar with the world she has created. Her imagination is so expansive that there is no shortage of interesting characters and creatures throughout the movie. Rowling even includes several references to the Harry Potter series and other material not in the books.
There are very few things holding this movie back from being perfect. While all of the main characters are fleshed out, some of the secondary characters are relegated to the sidelines, in particular, Jon Voight’s and Carmen Ejogo’s characters. The movie can also seem busy at some points with several plot threads occurring at once. While this should be expected from a first-time screenwriter, it is not a main issue as Rowling was able to successfully accomplish this while writing Harry Potter.
Since the last Harry Potter movie was released five years ago and the last novel nine years ago, it was possible that interest in Rowling’s work had dwindled and that “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” would underperform at the box office. However, backed by Redmayne’s leading man performance and Rowling’s unique storytelling, the movie has made its budget back at the box office and has successfully started a new franchise. The movie is now playing in theaters.