Douglas Milewski (dacuteturtle) wrote,
Douglas Milewski

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the latest film offering by J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter universe. Newt Skamander loses magical beasts, catches magical beasts, and collides with a plot all set in 1920s New York.

Having recently written a fantasy book in the 1920's, I had a an extra layer of interest in the film. I won't compare the two, because the stories are baseball and ping-pong, but I will follow her game and say what I think.

First, color grading. I detested the color grading. While I don't require the film to look fully naturalistic, having it look less gray would be great. This current fashion of colorless color films is detestable. Where color does exist, it exists in the wizarding world, so I do appreciate that the directory made a choice here. I respect that choice, but I still detest results.

Costume was half a win and half a loss. I adored the costumes on the girls. For large swaths of the film, they got to wear ordinary clothing that fit the era. In general, all the costuming looked well done, and the designers used appropriate period sources. Where the designers fell down for me was with the American aurors. All aurors wore the same trenchcoat outfit. Back in the 20's, gendered outfits were the norm, so the female aurors should really have had a feminine auror look all their own, just as sharp, and just as professional, with a skirt. (Women in pants? A definite no-no.)

I liked some of the revived archetypes that showed up the in film. A ditzy but sweet blonde, an ordinary joe, the stereotypical banker, the New York cop, the religious zealot, these all drew off those older character types. Their revival felt fresh compared to the modern archetypes. The only place where the characters really lost me was when they weren't the old archetypes. (By the way, these old archetypes were popular for decades because they worked.)

They had the architecture and technology generally right. Those madmen made a complete 3D model of New York for the era, and a skyscraper under construction in the film was likely a famous NY tower, my guess being the Chrysler Building. (The Empire State was closer to 1930.) The only thing NYC needed more of was cars. Even back then, it had a maddening number automobiles. As for the horse carts, they were still in widespread use in the 1920s, so they're accurate. (For a period comparison, watch the Jazz Singer.)

I loved the set for the girls' room in the boarding house. (I like how it was a boarding house but they simply didn't explain it. Good.) The set for that was spot on, down to the mix of era being shown, and the accumulated clutter. This looked like apartments in old movies and felt lived in. That really sold it.

I thought the story bit off a bit too much to chew. I would have dropped the political plot. I was having enough fun with the primary characters in the comedy that the real plot was an annoying distraction, which would have freed up more time with the characters. There were many good opportunities left untouched.

Given the same setup, I would have veered towards the ever-complicating comedy, where all the crazy solutions come crashing down at the end and the main characters are doing the damnedest things to keep their plan from falling apart.

I felt disappointed with the character arcs. Newt wants his animals back. OK. Good enough arc. Cop girls wants to become an auror again, but her actions only don't seem to get her there. That doesn't seem to be her motivation at all. She's just there as the straight man. The donut guy follows along but doesn't ever seem to be helping himself, or even saying, "hey, this is better than a canning factor." And finally, psychic blonde doesn't seem to have any mission at all, or aims, or anything. With each character now having a goal, each character's action can now impact the other characters, advancing and disrupting the other goals. It's a good comedy setup with real potential, but has to get written that way from the get-go. You can't just slot it in. You can keep the story comedy adventure as well, but the final conflict would be the result of Newt's mistake. I'd even be up for saving a rare creature from destruction by the wizards as that's what Newt's theme is. As it stands, the political stuff has nothing to do with most of the film. The bad guy could want the bad thing to destroy all donut shops just as much as some other vague and unexplained plot goal.

I found the film lacking in heart. This film needed more of that. Much, much more. I needed that heart to love the characters and care about their goals.

Although the 1920s were the backdrop, they mattered too little in the overall arch of the film. I could just as easily have set this in 1980's NY with almost no changes. (Yes, there would have been the whole national TV thing going, so the end deus ex machina would have to be different, but it would still be a deus ex machina.)

I noted some seeming lore conflicts with the earlier films, but I don't care. Perfect continuity sucks.

I think that the whole "exposing wizards" didn't work, as people didn't believe in magic anyway, so I was often left mystified by this plot point.

The street preacher was under-used. I suppose that she was supposed to be some sort of red herring, of the sort that doesn't work. I never suspected her of anything other than fanaticism. Indeed, she wound up confusing the tensions within the film rather than heightening them or deepening them. She represented a conflict that just didn't pan out.

Overall, I found the film perfectly entertaining fluff, and well done fluff at that. (Fluff may seem easy, but it's not. Fluff isn't an insult. The world needs good fluff.) Don't think about it too hard and you'll be adequately entertained.
Tags: 2010s, video review

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