The Movie (4.5/5)
I was stuck in the middle of the Harry Potter phenomenon, the result of which was 8 huge summer blockbusters that captivated everyone around me. I quickly moved on, tiring of the Potter saga and all its weird rules, storytelling quirks, and just how obsessed everyone I knew was with this franchise. I was ready to put Potter to bed, resulting in minor frustration when I heard that J. K. Rowling herself was ready to step into the ring for not one, but three new Potter-verse films. I groaned even harder when I heard that she’d expanded the trilogy into a five movie series, and that they were bringing Eddie Redmayne, who had never really impressed me, on board to lead the newly expanded series.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the tale of Newt Scamander, played with entertaining aloofness by Eddie Redmayne, and his magical briefcase that he uses to transport an encyclopedia of the wizarding world’s most fantastic creatures. Our story drops us straight into Newt’s trip to America, in which he is hoping to acquire a rare creature in the deserts of Arizona. Unfortunately, before he can even leave New York City, his entry point in the United States, one of his creatures escapes, leading him on a chase through the city, and smack dab into local baker Jacob Kowalski, the straight man played by Dan Fogler, interjected into the magical madness. Carrying an identical briefcase to that of Newt’s, they accidentally swap briefcases, and in a freak series of events, Kowalski releases many of Scamander’s most dangerous magical creatures into the streets of the city. Joined by disgraced wizard hunter Tina Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterson, and her sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, Newt and Jacob must embark on a quest to recover his magical creatures, a quest that wraps them up in a government conspiracy, the ambitions of a madman, and even the welfare of a child. All of this while trying to save the muggles of New York City from the havoc that Scamander’s creatures are wreaking upon them.
I think that maybe my fatigue with the Harry Potter universe came from two things, both of which don’t exist in Fantastic Beasts: annoying teenage angst that I was way too close to at the time to find comfortable in the movie, and the oppressive rules placed upon these wizards that limited any kind of exploration into their abilities outside of the last act of each of the Potter films. Fantastic Beasts is set in a time frame before these rules were ruthlessly enforced, and recognizing the now older fanbase of the franchise, is an adventure that features mostly adults doing well…..adult things. They use advanced spells and express the full extent of their power to accomplish their goals. Fantastic Beasts skips all of the training baggage and drops us straight into the story of full grown adults; spoiler alert: it’s awesome.
Fantastic Beasts juggles many identities with ease, a credit to the talent of J. K. Rowling, who makes her debut as screenwriter, and the phenomenal editing of Mark Day. It manages to be an engaging prequel, one that begins to unravel a story mentioned in the later Harry Potter books while expanding the wizarding world across the sea to the United States and a fantastic period piece that is filled with wonderful period appropriate costumes and props that make Scamander’s quest to search for his magical creatures feel like an authentic artifact of the roaring twenties. At the same time, it provides adequate context that allows us to explore the character arcs of four interesting lead characters, a brand new Potter-verse villain, a subplot about a dangerous magical child, and the most intriguing political structure of American wizards; maybe it’s the American in me, but this films just paints them as far more interesting than their British counterparts. All of this in a little over two hours, complete with explosive climax and phenomenal digital effects laden displays of supreme magical talent.
On top of superb pacing, Fantastic Beasts does an excellent job of exploring the more relevant than ever themes of self preservation and prejudice, as we’re introduced to the governing body of American wizards, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, who while also trying to capture Newt, Tina, and the rest of their gang, must grapple with the fact that they’re a small minority of the population across the world, and how they can use their magic in ways to help them more comfortably assimilate into the culture at large. This of course sparks the anger of government official and movie villain Percival Graves, played by Collin “I phoned in this performance HARD” Farrell, who believes that their governing body doesn’t do enough to protect themselves, and focuses too heavily on the well being of non-magic people of the world. With all of the conflict currently bubbling to the surface in our nation regarding the status of minorities and immigrants, it handles the topic in a way that is both sensitive and poignant, something I can’t say about many films that try to present similar information.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does something more important than all of the other points brought up combined: it knows how to have fun. Previous Harry Potter films had ambitious special effects sequences, interesting parallels to real life, and phenomenal production values, but somewhere along the way they forgot how to have fun. They used all of this spectacle to be angry and increasingly dark over the years as Harry got closer to his fight with Voldemort, that the magic slipped out from under them. They’re well made movies, and maybe its because of how overloaded I was with Potter fanboying during their original runs, but I found that I enjoyed them less and less, which is why found myself so enamored with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It may, on occasion, get a smidge too convoluted as it unravels its tale, but it is on average, an absolute blast.
The Video (3.5/5)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was shot using the Arri Alexa XT digital camera in 3.4K resolution mode with Panavision anamorphic lenses, which resulted in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation. There was limited information released regarding the film’s digital intermediate, which was used to generate 2D and 3D 2K IMAX and standard digital presentations, as well as limited 35mm and deluxe 70mm film presentations in select locations. On 4K UHD Blu-ray, the film is presented in 2160p resolution, in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
I had high hopes for Fantastic Beasts in 4K with HDR mastering, as there was a rumor floating around that the film received a full 4K workflow from end to end – I can tell you after viewing the film on my 4K OLED television that this is most certainly not the case. Color in this presentation is excellent, with mostly beautiful HDR black levels, which result in the occasionally oppressively dark shot every now and then. Add to that some lovely golden yellows, cool blues, and some excellent contrast, and you have the foundation for a great transfer. Unfortunately, the 4K resolution reveals some glaring issues, such as numerous soft, low resolution shots peppered through the movie, and some weak CGI that doesn’t resolve as nicely under a much sharper lens. Some of the darker sequences exhibit some noticeable noise, especially in longer shots. For each one of these moments however, there’s a phenomenal close up that reveals excellent texture, or a shot that truly feels like it takes advantage of the full capabilities of 4K. It just feels mildly inconsistent at times.
The Audio (5/5)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is presented on 4K UHD Blu-ray with both a Dolby Atmos and 5.1 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack. For review purposes, the film was listened to using a 5.1 mix-down of the Dolby TrueHD core used as the basis for the Atmos presentation , as I do not have the capability to properly utilize an Atmos soundtrack.
This film’s sound design should not have only merited a Oscar nomination, but a medal for each member of the team. Each offensive spell rings through the 5.1 soundfield and delivers such a resounding thud that you’d think you’d been shot in the chest yourself. Each apparation occurs with such force that you truly feel the rip in spacetime through magic. Each explosion registers with a sharp low frequency response, and debris flies through all corners of the room as buildings are torn apart and streets ripped to shreds by magical terrors. At the same time, it track also has these beautiful, thought provoking quiet moments of wonder, with beautiful applications of James Newton-Howard’s excellent action-adventure film score used to evoke emotion and excitement.
Special Features/Packaging (5/5)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released to home video by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in both standard 4K UHD Blu-ray packaging and an exclusive Best Buy 4K UHD Blu-ray steelbook, which is featured here. The steelbook features a beautiful matte drawing of Newt’s niffler, surrounded by a comedically massive mountain of gold, standing in front of Newt’s signature case of creatures. On the back is a gold tinted picture of Newt climbing up the steps of the bank from the first act of the film, with a crowd of people standing behind him. Opening the case reveals a spread of three of Newt’s creatures along with the film’s theatrical credits in shiny gold text. A wonderful addition to anyone’s steelbook library if there ever was one.
Onto the features, which are presented exclusively on the Blu-ray disc of this package:
Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins! – a 15 minute feature that explores the origins of the film, the phenomenon surrounding the franchise, and how the pieces all fell in line for getting this film off the ground. Features interviews with all the major players – producers, the director, and J. K. Rowling herself.
Characters – a series of five mini features that cover the main cast members, as well as key side characters. Each feature includes back story on their creation, and interviews with their respective cast members, etc…
Creatures – a series of 7 mini features that cover the many creatures used in the film, their design, and other facts about their creation.
Design – another series of 6 mini features that cover the elaborate design work that went into creating the world of this new entry into the Harry Potter canon. Covers locations, new story elements, etc….
Deleted Scenes – 11 short sequences deleted from the film, mostly of awkward character interactions, a scene with a totally deleted character that would’ve detracted from the overall construction of the film, and a couple of minor effects shots that weren’t quite as refined as the rest of the film.
Overall, this release includes a wealth of background information and details about the intricate production of the film that will please any and all fans of the Harry Potter film franchise, or just this film alone. Couple that with it’s beautiful steelbook packaging, and this release is a real winner.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Dolby Atmos – 4K UHD ONLY (English)
DTS-Master Audio 5.1 (English)
English Descriptive 5.1 (English)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Runtime: 133 minutes
After years of being totally burnt out on Harry Potter books, films, and even the occasional video game, I thought I was free of this franchise. On a whim, and not wanting to be left out of the know with my peers, I dived in head first, and found myself in love with the Potter universe all over again. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of a five film franchise, is awash with energy, excitement, and most important of all, a profound sense of wonder that makes an otherwise concluded film franchise feel brand new again. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has done a mostly brilliant job bringing this film to 4K UHD Blu-ray, with an inconsistently great 2160p video transfer, incredible audio, a great selection of added features, and a beautiful Best Buy exclusive 4K UHD Blu-ray steelbook package. I often try my best not to gush over major blockbuster releases, but this one is absolutely magical. Recommended.