The silvery strand dangles at the tip of the wand as I immerse it into the billowing waves of the Pensieve of my mind. Come, dive into the past with me…
*wisps of smoke swirl around for a second and quickly materialize into that theatre where I had walked in excited*
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has just been released and is quickly rising to cult fandom. Chris Columbus’ ambitious adaptation of the magical Potterverse has come to resplendent life on screen and the Boy-who-lived looks exactly as we had imagined him to be. Years of neglect has crushed his morale but his bright eyes come alive behind the glasses as Hagrid tells him that he is a wizard and had been accepted to Hogwarts. With that little eleven year old, millions of us have also been accepted as we unravel the wonders of that magnificent school through his eyes…
*a slight tug is felt as I jolt back into my seat, as if I had never left it*
The last Harry Potter film was an emotional moment for Potter fans all over the world. A whole generation had grown up with the characters, watching them become friends, go on adventures, face death and sacrifice everything for people they ever cared for. The very feeling that this cinematic window to their world was going away forever, left an irreplaceable void. Thankfully, Rowling had imagined the world to be much larger than what she had revealed to us yet. Initially planned for the benefit of charitable organizations, Rowling wrote three more books providing us a glimpse of the history of the Potterverse – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Tales of Beadle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages. Although these books were written more in the format of Hogwarts’ First Year Curriculum, it was only a matter of time a film adaptation would happen.
Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is originally a scholarly text about 83 magical species that secretly inhabit our muggle world wherein he strives to project his Darwinian fascination on the magical folk making them feel the need to preserve these creatures. David Yates’ adaptation of Fantastic Beasts puts us in the centrepoint of one of Scamander’s travails in America. Yates, who directed the last three Harry Potter films, had attained much adulation for his treatment of the much darker and complex final chapters and was a good fit to direct this extended Potterverse prequel.
Scamander arrives in a 1920s America where the Magical community has been thrown into chaos by the insurgence of a certain Dark Wizard known as Grindelwald who threatens to expose their hidden world to instigate an all-out war with the Muggles. The Non-magic or the unappealingly named No-maj society is also undergoing tumultuous changes in a post-industrialization era with Businesses and Sky-scrapers rising up everywhere. As compared to the Harry Potter era, interestingly, Muggle technology arc in the 20s is not advanced enough and any magical occurrence immediately attracts attention which has made the whole scenario much more sensitive than it would normally have been.
Scamander’s secretive mission in America (Pokémon Hunt, anyone?) turns into a frantic quest when his magical suitcase gets switched with that of a wannabe baker, factory worker named Jacob Kowalski. His suitcase, as is the case with all mundane-looking objects in Rowling’s world, is no ordinary suitcase and uses some kind of sophisticated extension charm to house a whole animal sanctuary inside where he serves to protect his creatures from harm. Before he could locate Kowalski and get back his “luggage”, its already too late and some of the creatures have escaped into the busy streets of New York among the “most vicious creatures on the planet….Humans!”.
Yates’ portayal of a much larger Magical society in the 1920s is wonderfully alluring owing to the strong similarity in what we had seen in the Harry Potter films. The magical folk, however, dress in adherence to the times and blend in as best as they can. The Aurors and representatives of the Magical Congress of the United States of America aka MACUSA, are shown to be a strict lot who are skeptical about any outsider who steps into America, inadvertently jabbing a finger at the intolerance and the current political situation in 2016. The MACUSA headquarters seem much more mechanical than the regal, almost spartan Ministry of Magic in London.
The story is replete with historical as well as Potterverse references, as expected. In a parallel arc, there is a Dickensian Orphanage named New Salem run by a matron with a strong aversion for anything “strange” attributing it to witchcraft. This direct reference to the infamous Salem witch trials where thousands of innocent women were burnt at the stake, projects a much darker aspect to the overall plot. Credence (played by Ezra Miller), who is one of the older inhabitants of the orphanage, is given a necklace by one MACUSA auror Mr. Graves (played by Collin Farell) to help him find “a certain child” to probably aid Grindelwald achieve his objective in some way. This necklace was first seen in the possession of Luna Lovegood’s father, Xenophilius who gave us the story of the Deathly Hallows. It would be intriguing to see how this symbol passed through various hands to end up with the Quibbler editor. I would leave the rest of the references for you to spot and drive yourself crazy over.
Eddie Redmayne’s knack of understanding a character and completely owning it, is yet again evident in Fantastic Beasts. From his pusillanimous personage to his intrepid attitude towards the “seemingly dangerous” (no offense, Newt) creatures, is the perfect balance of quirk and childlike fervor that is Newt Scamander. Comedian Dan Fogler’s character of wannabe Baker Kowalski is the very embodiment of every muggle who would accidentally get exposed to the magic that had been hidden away from sight. The Laurel-and-Hardy-esque chemistry between Redmayne and Fogler is hilarious as they keep getting into impossible situations while running around the city trying to capture the elusive creatures. The characters of Tina and Queennie Goldstein played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, as the sisters who help Scamander hide from the MACUSA, is a nice addition to the Potterverse.
Fantastic Beasts is a heart-fluttering nostalgia ride. From the typical Warner Bros. zoom-in intro to the classic Harry Potter Font with James Howard’s signature score, you find yourself transported to a world you have come to love so much even before the first scene. Rowling’s screenplay debut brings her unbounded imagination through an adaptation which aims at establishing a whole new world with a plethora of new characters and magical beings. Although you feel that at times there are too many simultaneous plots to focus on, Fantastic Beasts is an adventure to cherish. Iconic film franchises more often than not tend to overshadow their prequels as happened with the Hobbit Trilogy but Newt Scamander has already carved a niche in our fandom. We have a new poster-boy to obsess about !
*Picks up the first book to revise the series once more. Its been a long time my friend*
gobblpoint: It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this was one production that Potter-fans all over the world have been waiting for since 2011. The spectacular visuals with an engaging story, would make you an instant convert if you aren’t one already.
Disclaimer: The images in this post are the sole property of the makers of the film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.