We live in a world filled with sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. For the vast majority of those, studios take a ‘more of the same’ attitude, looking to replicate past successes. Fortunately for us, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exception to that rule. David Yates and J.K. Rowling deliver a wondrous new chapter in the world of witchcraft and wizardry. And while it’s just as magical as its Harry Potter predecessors (or successors, in terms of chronology), it’s a really different offering for fans of the franchise and newcomers alike.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a British wizard arriving in New York with a briefcase full of the titular fantastic beasts. Set in 1926, Fantastic Beasts unfolds as a small handful of Newt’s magical creatures escape. When havoc is wreaked upon the city, threatening to expose the magical world to that of the No-Maj people (a.k.a. muggles), the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) rapidly turn on Newt, believing his beasts to be the cause of the trouble.
Redmayne was perfectly cast as Newt. I can’t imagine anyone else bringing the character and Rowling’s script to life quite so well. Katherine Waterston is equally wonderful opposite him in the joint female lead as Tina Goldstein, an impassioned member of MACUSA committed to fighting for what she believes in.
There are a few things about it that don’t quite do the rest of it justice. A sub-plot with Jon Voight’s character feels, while somewhat important to the story, a bit shoehorned in to make things work. And some of the minor characters, most notably the president of MACUSA, are noticeably weak. But those problems are offset by the excellence of Redmayne and Waterston and their strong supporting stars Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, and Colin Farrell.
Rowling has also done a pretty amazing job of incorporating an animal rights and conservationist theme into a Hollywood blockbuster. To her credit, it’s a message that is both at the forefront of the whole film, while simultaneously being just beneath the surface enough to not be at all preaching to the audience. The beasts she and Yates’ filmmaking team have created are outstanding – hats off in particular to the constantly-adorable Niffler – and I’m eager to see what else they have in store for us in the coming films.
While it feels like a new blockbuster comes out every week – and between the months of March and August, it basically does now – films like Fantastic Beasts are nevertheless few and far between. While the film itself is loosely based on / inspired by an original book, and is of course tied into the Harry Potter universe, it’s still basically a whole new world built from scratch.
That world-building takes a huge amount of effort from hundreds upon hundreds of people, from the mind of screenwriter J.K. Rowling, director David Yates, and everyone on down. The Special Features included on the Blu-ray disc do a remarkable job of showcasing all of that talent.
There is a huge wealth of entertainment that expands far beyond what we saw in the cinema, in terms of characters’ backstories as much as the actual filming.
Beware Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins! (15:31)
Here, we see Rowling talking about how Harry Potter was such a huge part of her life for a full seventeen years, and that when the books and the films finally came to an end, it was a real kind of bereavement for her. She knew Warner Bros. might want to do something with Fantastic Beasts, she says, and that’s why she always said, ‘Never say never,’ when asked about doing something more with Harry Potter.
Katherine Waterston, seen sporting what looks a lot like her Alien: Covenant haircut in a filmed conversation with the main quartet, reveals that J.K. Rowling would tease little details of their characters’ futures, and where things were going in the other films.
The Magizoologist (4:15)
Redmayne says that he met with zoologists and trackers, observing the latter while they were working, which informed how he shaped Newt’s movements. Multiple Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood talks about designing Newt’s clothes to match how he’d move and what his personality is like. And Molly Sole, junior concept artist, reveals that the handle of Newt’s wand is made from balamite, an ancient squid fossil, again reflecting his character.
The Goldstein Sisters (5:04)
A short and sweet look at Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol’s characters, and their wonderful sisterly relationship.
The No-Maj Baker (4:42)
Dan Fogler affectionately describes Jacob as a sad clown, someone who loves making people happy, with his jokes and his charming personality, as well as his baking.
The New Salemers (4:42)
Interestingly, Rowling expands on the characters’ backstory, revealing that while not in the movie, she has written the New Salemers to have descended from a wizard. She says that vindictive wizards participated in Salem, and when the magical world came for them, they disappeared into the world of muggles, marrying them and having children to slowly get rid of their magic.
Ezra Miller also reveals, on a more lighthearted note, that Colleen Atwood gave him 1920s-style underwear to wear, in reference to the great detail of the costumes, and how they helped him really get into character.
The President and the Auror (5:37)
Rowling and Yates tease that the very close relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore will be expanded upon in future films.
Meet the Fantastic Beasts (4:18)
A brief overview of some of the extraordinary work that went into bringing the magical creatures to life. Yates says he wanted them to feel like they could exist within our world, that they are evolved species of the magical realm that still feel authentic to audiences.
There’s a great shot here of Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler shooting in the interior of Newt’s Briefcase. Redmayne is making the motion of putting Picket back on the branch, and then holding onto him on his person when he refuses. Only there’s absolutely nothing there, no Picket to look at, nor a green tennis ball, or anything else, but he still is perfectly convincing.
We also get a look at some brilliant puppeteering work done by Avye Leventis.
Rowling reveals, ‘You can make an invisibility cloak from the pelt of a demiguise, which is why they’re hunted and endangered.’
Surprisingly, Rowling says that David Yates injected the scene with the erumpent, the creature with which Newt performs the amazing mating ritual, with a playfulness that she hadn’t expected. That scene is all kinds of ingenious, in large part because it’s so funny, so how it played out in Rowling’s mind originally, I don’t know.
Again, we get to see some of the great work done by the puppeteers on the set with the ever-adorable Niffler.
Shaping the World of the Fantastic Beasts (5:55)
An overview of the great work done by production designer Stuart Craig and his team. Redmayne says he thought when he first started the project that it was going to be entirely green screen, when in fact Craig and co., Colleen Atwood, and everyone else did an incredible job making it all look and feel real on set.
New York City (7:25)
Yates and producer David Heyman say they realised quite quickly that it would be easier to build 1926 New York than to film in New York. Very little of 1926 New York exists anymore anyway. Instead, they built their stretch of the city in Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios, right here in the UK. Incredibly, the crew was given just fifteen weeks to build it from start to finish, and they were amazingly successful in performing that herculean task.
Newt’s Magical Case (5:00)
In the film, the first section of Newt’s case that we see, at the bottom of the ladder, looks brilliant. But spending more time in the location here, complete with close-ups, you can see just how detailed everything really is, and how it all wonderfully reflects Newt’s character and feels like things he’d actually have in there. And that’s before you even get to the different habitats beyond.
The Shaw Banquet (4:30)
The Blind Pig (4:40)
Like many deleted scenes, the majority of these feel like they were wisely excised. There are a small handful, mostly those relating to Jacob and Queenie’s relationship, that feel like they would have been nice to have been kept in the full feature. But with a 130-minute running time as it stands, it’s understandable that these would be among the scenes that were trimmed.
Major Investigation Department (1:21)
Jacob Tenement (1:34)
Adds an extra bit of backstory to Jacob’s life as a No-Maj.
Newt’s Case (1:33)
Likewise, adds an extra few creatures inside Newt’s case that were cut from the final film.
MACUSA Cell (1:03)
Tracking Demiguise (2:41)
A nice little expansion on Queenie and Jacob’s budding relationship.
Suitcase Celebration (2:28)
Of all the deleted scenes, this is easily the one most worthy of cutting. Tina and Queenie sing the school song from their youth, which has a sickly American feel to it that is just way too wholesome to be even remotely enjoyable. I’m immensely glad they cut it, because it really doesn’t work and isn’t needed.
Skyscraper Roof (0:54)
Another little expansion on Queenie and Jacob’s relationship, as well as adding a tiny bit more backstory to Jacob’s character.
Obscurus Unleashed, Part 1 (0:54)
Obscurus Unleashed, Part 2 (1:06)
Adds a brief moment of comedy into the epic final showdown. Could have been good to include, albeit with quite a British feeling of comedy, but didn’t take anything away from the scene having been removed.
Newt Goodbye (1:00)
Overall, it’s the best set of Special Features I’ve seen in a long time. I already thoroughly enjoyed the film, and had a brilliant time diving back into it on Blu-ray with such a treasure-trove of extras. Hugely entertaining and impressively expansive, taking you even further beyond and behind the world-building spectacle that is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Absolutely essential viewing for fans of the film.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, 4K UHD, and a Blu-ray 3D Steelbook. It’s also available to download on Digital HD.