‘Potter’ prequel pushes patience

'Fantastic Beasts' struggles to balance new franchise and story

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gnokii at openclipart.orgGnokii
gnokii at openclipart.org

After eight very successful films in the “Harry Potter” saga, fans wanted more stories set in this unique world. So when it was announced that not only were we getting three spin-offs (now five) set decades before the events of the original films, but J. K. Rowling was announced to be writing the scripts, fans got excited to see what would come.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is set in mid 1920s New York City, where tensions are at an all-time high as the American wizard community dreads that humans — referred to by wizards as “no-maj’s” or “muggles” — are close to discovering them. Consequently, wizards have placed a ban on mystical creatures to prevent their exposure. Oblivious to this, Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, with a magical briefcase full of beasts, travels to America on a quest to return one of his creatures to its natural home in Arizona.

When his briefcase is accidentally opened and some of his creatures get out, he must find them before they cause too much trouble. On this endeavor, he is joined by Tina and Queenie Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, and no-maj Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler.

While “Fantastic Beasts” has enough of the fun ingredients that made the original “Harry Potter” films special, it gets bogged down by too many subplots.

We have Newt and company trying to find his creatures, the American wizard government trying to prevent humans from learning of their existence, a government officer working outside the law, an anti-wizard human family trying to warn New Yorkers of evil magic, a series of mysterious disasters and an evil wizard on the loose. And that’s the most simplified summary of events. Rowling should’ve picked three to use for this film and saved the rest for the inevitable sequels.

Rowling needs more practice with screenwriting. Writing a movie is not the same as writing a book as you only have two-and-a-half hours to tell the story. Her writing didn’t allow much room for director David Yates and the cast to breathe and for the characters to develop. Perhaps this issue could be solved if she co-writes the next script with an experienced screenwriter.

What was most surprising was the shockingly poor quality of the computer generated effects in some scenes, whereas in past films they did an okay job. The prime example of this is a bar scene where the main cast has to get information from a goblin gangster. Not only is it disappointing that the goblin is fully CG, since the earlier films have used practical prosthetic effects, but the way that his skin is rendered is almost insulting to the viewer. The effect is so bad that the team behind “Sharknado” would cringe at the sight of it.

Despite an overflowing script, the main four leads did the best job they could with the characters they were given, particularly Redmayne, who seemingly had a blast playing Newt. His performance was the most interesting and fresh in the film. He embraces some of the more ridiculous aspects of his character with pride, especially in one scene where he has to charm one of his creatures in order to catch it by performing a mating ritual.

The creatures in the film are a lot of fun too. The designs were inventive and each creature had its own personality to make them more distinguishable, to make them more than just a computer-generated creation. The most fun was the hedgehog looking critter, Niffler, that would constantly escape to steal jewelry or shiny coins. Niffler will most certainly become a fan-favorite and be a high-selling merchandising character.

While the film has issues, it’s still worth checking out if you wanted to see more of the “Harry Potter” universe and opens the doors for a potentially exciting franchise. Let’s just hope that Rowling can produce a more focused screenplay next time around.

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