Sunday, November 20, 2016

"BEASTS" LESS THAN FANTASTIC

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Starring Eddie Redmayne,
Colin Farrell,
Dan Folger,
Samantha Morton,
Ezra Miller,
Katherine Waterston,
Jean Murray
Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
Runtime 133 minutes
Rated PG-13


          Not quite up to expectations.
          This coming from a Harry Potter fan with great expectations of a new J.K. Rowling movie.
          Without giving away anything significant--that is, not basically already in the trailer--suffice to say that an English wizard named Newt (Redmayne) hops the pond to pick up a present for someone and to release a fantastic beast from a magic suitcase. When his suitcase gets mixed up with another guy's suitcase, beasts are released that should have remained contained.
          Set in New York of 1926, Beasts features a totally different look from what we've come to expect in the world of Harry Potter. And that's part of the problem.
          You can like Hawaii, and you can like Norse mythology, but to mix the two is a tall order. Similarly, to see Hogwarts-y creatures in New York of the 1920s jars more than compels.
          The film would probably work better if it didn't have anything to do with Rowling or Potter or Hogwarts at all. As it is, we can't help but compare. And it just doesn't compare favorably.
          For instance, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, arguably the best of the series, there's a great scene with a Hippogryph--giant half-eagle, half-horse--where Harry flies around with sheer freedom and soaring wonder (which is itself kind of hard to understand because he could already fly on a broomstick anyway, so what's the big deal?). SPOILER ALERT: There might be sort of a similar moment in this one. Loosely. Except the budget isn't as good. It looks cheap. And we already saw it done better in Azkaban anyway.
          Then there's the conflict. In the Harry Potter movies, the kids are likeable and we care that they (particularly Harry) face Lord Voldemort. He's a strong villain. It's a good match. Here though, no such luck. The characters aren't as real, and the antagonist not as memorable.
          Furthermore, some of the names distract. When we hear the name Newt, we're stuck with the name Gingrich. When we hear the name Creedence, we automatically follow it up with Clearwater Revival. If you hear David Lee, you follow it up with Roth.
          One gets the sense that Rowling needed to score another hit, but didn't want to have to return to the world of Hogwarts proper. It's a nice effort, and probably better than the average release.
          It's just not as fantastic as we would have liked.



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