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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 3/28/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/20/2017

Those who don't really get into fiction may not understand how fans can get attached to characters who aren't real. But, if the vehicle is well-written, be it a book, movie, play, comic book, etc., the characters can seem real and we can get caught up in their stories. So, when they die or if the story comes to an end, it can leave a hollow feeling, especially we are talking about a series of stories. Through eight movies, we followed the adventures of Harry Potter, along with his friends and enemies, and they had a pretty good run. (Even in that movie where they seemed to go camping for 2 hours.) So, when the series ended in 2011, it left fans clamoring for more. Author J.K. Rowling granted their wishes with the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which has now been turned into a feature film. Can it do justice to the Harry Potter legacy?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes us far away from the familiar present of Hogwarts to 1920s New York City. As the film opens, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in The Big Apple with a strange suitcase. As he makes his way through the city, his attention is grabbed by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton), a woman who is railing during witches on the steps of a bank. Unfortunately, a small creature escapes from Newt's bag and enters the bank. In his attempts to catch it, Newt is noticed by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), as he becomes entangled with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a simple factory worker who dreams of owning a bakery. Tina reveals herself to be part of the local magic authority and takes Newt to their headquarters. However, Tina is a low-level employee and due to a recent series of magic attacks, is ignored by her superiors. Realizing that Newt switched cases with Kowalski, he and Tina set out to find it. Little does Tina realize that Newt's bag is filled with magical creatures which will make their mark on New York.

Given the sheer amount of money which she has made off of the Harry Potter books and movies, J.K. Rowling certainly didn't need to write anymore books in the series, but she clearly likes to dole out treats to her fans. In 2001, she released Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a faux textbook which had been mentioned in the other novels. (It even purported to have been written by Newt Scamander.) At some point, it was decided that this guidebook would be the basis for a new movie in the Potterverse. And I think that if you ask most Potter fans, they would say that a return to that world would be welcome. But, is this the movie that they wanted? Given the box office results, the answer was "Yes" (although, not a huge yes), but the movie has some problems.

In theory, the idea of setting the story away from Hogwarts and in a new place seems like a good notion. And why not New York City? Because the setting loses any of the magic which we've seen in the previous films. Yes, we visit the New York version of the "Ministry of Magic" and we see Tina's apartment, but otherwise, this is simply 1920's New York City with some wizard's running around. There is nothing magical or whimsical here. The story is all over the place, as it's sort of about Newt's creatures, sort of about Newt's interactions with "No Maj" people, and sort of about a series of mysterious explosions which have been plaguing the city. This lack of focus culminates in two twists endings, both of which feel like recycle ideas from other Harry Potter stories. But, the biggest problem here is Eddie Redmayne. I don't know how he keeps getting work, because he brings the strangest mannerisms to his roles. He mumble-whispers his way through this performance (I had to turn on the subtitles in order to understand him) and shows a persistent tic as if he's stuck in his character from The Theory of Everything. We are supposed to be behind Newt from the outset, but Redmayne makes him impossible to like.

As one would expect, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a well-made movie, as it shows off nice visual effects and an experienced eye from Harry Potter veteran Director David Yates. And, an invitation to go back to the world of wizards is intriguing. But, the movie has very little charm and none of the wonder which made the original series so good. The scenes which aren't ruined by Redmayne disappoint by displaying nothing special. Given that J.K. Rowling is super-rich, it would be hard to accuse this movie of being a cash-grab, but it's certainly a let-down which needed a lot more Harry Potter and a less of everything else.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fails to cast a spell on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a 2160p HD transfer. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright. The crispness of the image is very impressive, giving the picture a great amount of detail and depth. This is by far the best looking 4K release that I've seen thus far. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects show off nice separation and highlight sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound and subwoofer effects really come to life during the action sequences, providing deep bass response and surround effects which are nicely detailed. Overall, an impressive technical package.

The extras in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set are found on the included Blu-ray Disc. "Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!" (16 minutes) gives an overview of the film's creation starting with J.K. Rowling's original work. We get comments from Rowling, Director David Yates, and some other members of the creative team. While this piece does contain a nice amount of on-set footage, it focuses much more on the story, themes, and characters than the actual production. This is a nice change of pace. "Characters" offers five brief entries which focus on the main people who inhabit the story. Similarly, "Beasts" is a seven-part series which gives us a closer look at the odd monsters featured in the film. "Design" is broken into six chapters and examines the film's production design and some of the magical props. The Disc contains eleven DELETED SCENES which run about 15 minutes. We do learn here that Koalski had a fiancee who was cut from the film. Otherwise, most of these are quite short and simply add moments to scenes which are already in the film.

The film has also been released in a separate edition which includes a Blu-ray 3D. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22/12 Mbps. The image delivers a nice amount of depth, most notably in the street scenes in which we can see how the characters are clearly separate from the backgrounds. The various beings which fly around in the movie give the image a sense of layering. The colors look good and the image is not dark as some 3D can be. It's not groundbreaking 3D, but it looks good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. This is a perfectly serviceable track, as it provides notable surround and stereo effects, but it doesn't have the detail of the Atmos track.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long