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David Yates
Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston
Writing Credits:
JK Rowling

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

Box Office:
$180 million.
Opening Weekend
$74,403,387 on 4144 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English Dolby Atmos
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
French Dolby 5.1
Latin Spanish Dolby 5.1
Portuguese Dolby 5.1
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Latin Spanish

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 3/28/2017

>• “Before Harry Potter” Featurette
• “Characters” Featurettes
• “Creatures” Featurettes
• “Design” Featurettes
• Deleted Scenes
• Preview
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [Blu-Ray] (2016)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 20, 2017)

When Deathly Hallows Part 2 graced screens in 2011, it spelled the end of the Harry Potter movies – but not the conclusion of films in the same universe. Even while she composed the Potter novels, author JK Rowling created “spin-off” tales, and with 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, one of these reached cinemas.

Set in the 1920s, wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) mounts a worldwide search to find/save magical creatures, and he stores them within his fantastical suitcase. Newt intends to complete this quest in Arizona, and his travels take him to New York City along the way.

There Newt encounters some “No-Maj” locals – ie, those without magical powers – and problems ensue. Newt accidentally frees some beasts, unintentionally swaps his case with one belonging to local baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and causes more mayhem than intended. Newt must partner with a mix of parties – magical and muggle – to deal with these incidents, all while a sinister threat builds.

When I went into the first Potter movie in 2001, I didn’t count myself as a fan, and that never substantially changed over the ensuing decade. Oh, I liked the films for the most part and came to be fairly invested in the series by the end, but I never really bonded with the characters or situations.

Heck, 15 years after that initial cinematic offering, I still haven’t read any of the books. Compare that to the Lord of the Rings franchise, another series that didn’t interest me prior to its big-screen work in 2001 – as soon as the films concluded in 2003, I ran out to read the novel.

This made me semi-pessimistic that I’d dig into Beasts. Yes, I did come to enjoy the Potter movies as they went, but again, they never entered the category of “favorites”, so a spin-off story didn’t cause me to shudder with delight and anticipation.

Now that I’ve seen Beasts, I can’t claim that my belief was off the mark. While the movie brings us some of the magic and excitement of the Potter world, it feels unnecessary and less than enthralling much of the time.

To be fair, I felt that way about the first Potter film as well, so my view that Beasts lacks much cinematic merit doesn’t mean the rest of the franchise will leave me cold. And if we can believe IMDB, we will get many more Beasts chapters: that website already indicates plans for an additional four movies!

I hope matters improve, as this first Beasts just seems blah to me, starting with the lead character. Newt doesn’t present an especially compelling personality, and I can’t claim to feel much interest in his further adventures.

Again, the Harry found in Sorcerer’s Stone was also something of a dud, but at least the film pointed toward potential growth. We understood that Stone offered the first segment in a long, dramatic journey in which Harry would go through many trials and eventually confront the ultimate evil.

Beasts doesn’t push toward an over-arcing narrative in the same way. Sure, it introduces a new baddie called Grindelwald and implies we’ll find future confrontations in that regard, but I don’t get the feeling of “destiny” here that we found with Potter.

A lot of that comes back to boring old Newt, a character without much personality and someone who doesn’t actively engage the viewer. I blame the script for a lot of these failings, but Redmayne’s performance doesn’t help.

With one Academy Award under his belt and another nomination out there to boot, I don’t question Redmayne’s chops, but he doesn’t seem to connect to whatever core Newt may boast. Instead, the actor tends to feel stumbly, mumbly and twee. Newt really exists as little more than a means to a magical end, and Redmayne fails to do much with the part.

The meandering story doesn’t help matters. The narrative flits all over the place and fails to connect in a significant way, though it does get better toward the end. When Beasts delves into darker topics, it threatens to create an involving tale.

But it never quite gets there, which leaves the overall story as one without much power. At times the plot seems like an excuse for various magical sequences and not much more, facets that reveal Beasts as the semi-superfluous side adventure it is.

That’s a key problem with Beasts: it doesn’t feel like it enjoys an organic reason to exist. While I think there are a number of potentially interesting prequel ideas in the Potter universe, Newt doesn’t exist as the focal point for any of these. Wouldn’t a series about younger versions of Dumbledore, Snape and the like be way more interesting?

I suspect they would, but I also think Rowling and the others involved made a conscious decision to go away from Hogwarts and open a US branch of the franchise. I’d better appreciate this if the choice felt more like it existed for creative reasons, but I can’t shake the notion that Rowling moved the action to the States to form new franchise/merchandise options.

That’s probably cynical, but I still feel like Beasts exists mainly to milk the Potter cow. Rowling doesn’t want to explore Potter himself anymore but she doesn’t want to bail on the property, so we find ourselves with superfluous tales that lack a lot of real reason to exist.

Even with these concerns, I think Beasts comes with potential, but the movie just doesn’t do a lot to explore its options. I also feel a new director might’ve helped, as I’m not sure what David Yates can continue to bring to the franchise.

Yates directed the final four Potter films, and he largely did well with them. Nonetheless, I think a fresh perspective might’ve given Beasts the shot in the arm it needs. Rather than offer a spin on the material, Yates relies on the same old, same old, and this comes with diminishing returns.

That said, it’s possible no director could’ve done much with Beasts, as I think a lot of its flaws come from the screenplay and the basic premise. Fairly slow-moving and not especially compelling, Beasts launches the new franchise on a sluggish note. Hopefully future efforts will improve on it.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A/ Bonus B-

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie offered a largely positive presentation.

This meant good delineation, as the film showed accurate imagery. A sliver of softness hit some wider shots, but the majority of the transfer showed nice clarity. I saw no jaggies or moiré effects, and neither edge haloes nor print flaws marred the image.

As for the palette, it opted for a fairly desaturated bent. Some orange and teal appeared but in an abnormally subdued manner meant to match the period setting. Within those confines, the colors appeared fine.

Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows showed good smoothness. A lot of the movie opted for low-light shots and these came with appropriate definition. All in all, the transfer satisfied.

Even better, the film’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack excelled. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the mix came with many magical moments that utilized all the speakers in a compelling manner.

Because of this, we got a lot of information all around the room. Flying creatures/elements zoomed about the domain, and other action components managed to flit and dash. All of these combined into a broad, well-integrated soundscape that engulfed us in the action.

Audio quality remained pleasing. Speech was natural and concise, as the lines remained intelligible and lacked edginess.

Music appeared full and rich, and effects dazzled. Those elements came across as dynamic and bold, with excellent low-end response. From start to finish, the movie’s soundtrack worked exceedingly well.

When we move to the set’s extras, we open with Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins. In this 15-minute, 31-second piece, we hear from author/screenwriter JK Rowling, producers Lionel Wigram and David Heyman, director David Yates, and actors Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Eddie Redmayne, Carmen Ejogo, Jon Voight, Ezra Miller, Jenn Murray, and Alison Sudol.

The show looks at the source and its adaptation for the screen, story and characters, cast and performances, and Yates’ impact on the production. “Era” mixes useful footage and facts with fluff. That makes it a decent but inconsistent program.

Under Characters, five clips appear. We find “The Magizoologist” (4:14), “The Goldstein Sisters” (5:04), “The No-Maj Baker” (4:42), “The New Salemers” (4:42) and “The President and the Auror” (5:37). Across these, we get comments from Redmayne, Rowling, Waterston, Sudol, Fogler, Heyman, Yates, Miller, Murray, Ejogo, costume designer Colleen Atwood, junior concept artist Molly Sole, textile artist Matt Reitsma, and actors Faith Wood-Blagrove and Colin Farrell.

In these, we learn about the various roles in the film as well as the actors involved and related subjects like costumes and props. All offer useful material, though those that focus on secondary characters fare best, as they flesh out those roles well. The five programs give us good information.

Another compilation of featurettes shows up within Creatures. This domain breaks into seven segments: “Meet the Fantastic Beasts” (4:18), “Bowtruckle” (2:36), “Demiguise” (2:20), “Erumpent” (3:42), “Niffler” (2:29), “Occamy” (3:09) and “Thunderbird” (2:25). Here we locate remarks from Yates, Heyman, Fogler, Rowling, Redmayne, Waterston, Sudol, VFX animation director Pablo Grillo, visual effects supervisors Christian Manz and Tim Burke, hod prop modeler Pierre Bohanna, supervising creature puppeteer Robin Guiver, and puppeteers Ayve Leventis, Jack Parker, Finn Caldwell and Rachel Leonard.

As expected, these reels discuss the design and execution of the movie’s various “fantastical beasts”. They do so with reasonable depth – they tend to seem a little short but they still give us a nice array of thoughts about the character design and effects topics.

Six more featurettes come to us via Design. In this area, we get “Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts” (5:54), “New York City” (7:25), “Macusa” (7:07), “Newt’s Magical Case” (4:59), “The Shaw Banquet” (4:29) and “The Blind Pig” (4:39). Over these, we hear from Ejogo, Heyman, Yates, Burke, Redmayne, Atwood, Farrell, Voight, Manz, Sudol, Miller, Bohanna, Waterston, Rowling, Fogler, Grillo, production designer Stuart Craig, graphic designer Miraphora Mina, construction manager Paul Hayes, action vehicle coordinator Alex King, wardrobe master Gary Hyams, concept artist Dermot Power, art director Toby Britton, scenic artist Marcus Williams, stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart, special effects coordinator David Watkins, graphic designer Eduardo Lima, and actors Ronan Raftery, Ron Perlman and Josh Cowdery.

In these programs, we learn about costumes, sets, vehicles, and other production design elements. While we get some good notes, these tend to be fluffier featurettes than I’d like. They’re worth a look, but they lack great depth.

11 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 14 minutes, 33 seconds. Most of these tend to offer extensions to existing sequences, and this leaves them of limited utility. The majority toss out minor tidbits – like the “school song” for the US wizardry academy – and not much more.

The “No-Maj” Kowalski gets a minor boost, though, particularly in a scene that follows his disappointment at the bank. This segment shows that Jacob had a fiancée who dumped him because he couldn’t get a loan to start a bakery, while the theatrical cut leaves him as someone who never gets dates.

That’s the major expansion, and a couple other slivers add to Kowalski. Most of the scenes offer some entertainment but outside of the Jacob footage, none of them seem especially substantial.

The disc opens with an ad for the Harry Potter film series. No trailer for Beasts appears here.

A second disc presents a DVD copy of Beasts. It lacks any of the Blu-ray’s extras.

A spin-off/prequel to the Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them boasts the requisite spectacle but lacks much of the usual substance. While the film comes with some magical entertainment, it fails to deliver an involving narrative or memorable characters. The Blu-ray provides solid visuals, excellent audio and a moderately informative set of supplements. Maybe subsequent chapters will work better, but this first Beasts entry largely leaves me cold.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.625 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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