fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

By Jay Armstrong

Kevin Smith once spoke of being invited on the set of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, “The moment I stepped on the Millennium Falcon 10 years dropped off my life. Suddenly I was in my 30’s, and I hadn’t done ‘Cop Out,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ And then another 10 years dropped off, and I was in my 20’s making all those movies people like, referencing ‘Star Wars’ like crazy and stuff. And then another step up the ramp, and I was in my 10s and lower, when I fell in love with this stuff, when it was my religion, when I was a kid.” From the Warner Brothers Harry Potter opening I found myself pulled second by second into Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them until barely five minutes in I knew without a doubt THIS.IS.MY.KEVIN.SMITH.MOMENT.

There is a progress in quality of the Harry Potter films that went from a mere kids’ movie into an epic almost Lord of the Rings grandiouseness by the final Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Fantastic Beasts picks up in perfect stride with how each film progressed in a way that leaves you feeling that this is the exact line of films we could ever hope to find ourselves immersed in at this moment in our lives. As the characters are being developed, my mind is flashing back a lifetime ago when I picked up the first J.K. Rowling book simply because I had the world’s biggest crush on this babe Jenny who was obsessed with them and wanted to be able to talk to her about something she felt passionate for. And as with so many of my peers, I lost myself in a world where the imagination is the cornerstone, a place where the magnificent and the miraculous cross paths with the steadfast finding yourself youth and the friendships which sustain us throughout the doubt and insecurities we all must overcome. We grew up together, Hermione, Ron, Harry and I, their tribulations mere metaphors for those in my own life, I get the feeling you were along with us as well. I was obsessed with reading since early on but my younger brother couldn’t care less for it, The Prisoner of Azkaban was our bond; sitting in the childhood room we shared hearing him get so excited to where he was nearly jumping off the bed over werewolves and professor Snape. When a blizzard trapped my girlfriend Rachel and I in our apartment for three days, the cars having six inches of ice on them and the roads buried and useless, it’s not the terrifying isolation I remember, or watching nearby cities losing power as a result of the weather with the ominous realization we could be moments away from sharing such a fate, the warmth felt from the inside out of sharing a blanket with her and her two cats as we watched chronologically one after the other all the way to Hallows: Part 1 is what keeps the experience tucked away endearingly for me. We would breakup weeks before part 2 reached the theater, I sitting alone, tears streaming down my face as those final credits near-symbolically scrolled for the final time down the screen; a time stamp mark of an ending to my life in Indiana and the pilgrimage I would make south a few months later. All of these memories are just below the surface as Fantastic Beasts goes on.

Strange to believe outside of this years’ release of the visually stimulating yet easily forgettable The Legend of Tarzan, this is the first film created by David Yates, the man who gave us the four final installments of the Harry Potter series; the four where the films jump from quirky to cinematically substantial. As his craft grows with each film he has found a way to embody his vision all the more, giving even greater substance to the source content than his previous installment. These past five years of silence from Yates shows onscreen growth with minute stylized detail, each New York landscape lain out in ideal structure, shot for shot reminiscent of Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition begging to be captured and framed. While incorporating every last trigger from Rowling’s original onscreen adaptions to tug those dormant whimsical nostalgic heartstrings with absolute force. The true strength of the Potter universe has always been the device of understating the presence of romantic emotions, never fully dwelling on them, never fully touching on them yet somehow amidst the magic and the mystery, between the overcoming of weakness within the good and the omnipresent insurmountable ever enveloping evil, it is those little sparks of connection between one person and the next swallowing us whole in relation to our own path through life and the characters we find our entire being getting lost within. Every film in the series has a unique tangent of Rowling’s strength in writing focused upon, this is the first to bring those serendipitous longings front and center, still to remain in the background of the wizarding world, still overshadowed by our heroes struggle to overcome adversity for the greater good, yet of all in the series this is the one to bring the emotions of previous loss in the face of an unrequited hope for love into the spotlight.

Early on in Joseph Cambell’s The Power of Myth we find Bill Moyer speaking about one of the greater issues of the day being how we are no longer “acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour,” going on to explain how we have lost this thirst for eternal values experienced through the likes of Goethe and Thomas Mann where “the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you.” I believe J.K. Rowling was the first to stir our souls towards the unknown in a way religions and philosophers have failed to have the grasp on as they had for our ancestors. Under the guise of being a young adult reader she led the way in allowing us once more to experience the imagination in all its wonder, unspeakably tapping into this thirst for understanding we have of our all-encompassing emotional defining interactions with the unknown. Where The Deathly Hallows brought all of that on full force, Fantastic Beasts takes a step further by delving for the first time with the experience of the ‘adult’, where those groping lessons of youth become rudimentary in our adulthood passing through us now out of habit without even the hint of awareness we once had the shaky wand castings of Ron Weasley, the safely arrogant but sheltered shell of Hermione, and the crippling self-doubt that we will never have any importance in the world as Harry Potter himself once did. Fantastic Beasts shows us the journey is not over, our souls can once more be awoken in experience, there are battles yet to be fought and despite the confidence from what we have overcome in our past the steadfast way in which we carry ourselves now does not bring solace as we face new obstacles. The irony of course being these lessons shown to us through a story taken place before the first letter came to the boy living under the stairs to open both his eyes and ours to a world of wizards and witches to change both of us completely forever.

When the film is over Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them leaves us fulfilled by lighting our feet along the journey once more which began for most of us in our our developmental stages of childhood in the most exciting way we could hope for while barely giving us a taste of an entirely new adventure we cannot contain our excitement to embark upon. Tapping into the unrequited yet somehow almost forgotten strength of our imagination, hilarious in part, breathtaking in others, every passing minute turns you in a direction only Rowling herself could script; the cast is ideal, the CGI unimposingly seamless, without a doubt this is a must see in theaters.