The wizarding world comes home once again, as the first Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them releases on blu-ray this week. Coming loaded with bonus features, is the new release worth picking up? Come inside to check out my review and see.
While it's most definitely connected to the larger Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them manages to craft an entirely different story without having to be beholden to the bigger 'universe'. Set back in the 1920s, the film works as a period-piece that provides a snapshot of the wizarding world at this point in history. While many of the ideas and even some characters from Harry Potter pop up here and there, Fantastic Beasts really works wonderfully on its own, without requiring an intimate knowledge of the other films to enjoy.
The story starts simply, as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a case filled with magical creatures (which he's dedicated his life to studying/helping). When some creatures escape and begin causing havoc, agents from MACUSA (the United States version of the Ministry of Magic) must get involved. A much more sinister threat is running loose on the streets, which threatens to instigate open war between wizards and muggles.
Misunderstanding bring these two storylines together, and Newt must help get to the bottom of the situation in order to save himself and the magical creatures he cares for. This basic plot opens the door for a much larger story, which makes sense considering Warner Bros. has a sequel planned to shoot later this year, with four more in the pipeline.
That said, Fantastic Beasts does a great job of making the story work on its own. While the set up for a bigger story for future movies is definitely laid out, it doesn't detract from the primary story being told within this movie. When the credits roll, you feel a sense of closure on this particular tale and don't feel like you HAVE to wait for the next film for some sense of conclusion.
Not everyone was enamored with the film upon its release, but I really enjoyed it. I loved being able to see the Wizarding World in a new light and fresh characters. In this film, we get to see wizards interacting and dealing with things as they normally would. We're not encumbered by the point of view of a character learning about these things for the first time. As such, the movie felt much freer in terms of not having to explain every single thing about the world.
I enjoyed getting to know the new characters, and while Newt feels a tad hard to be likeable...that's kind of the point, and something he himself says in the movie. The theme of being true to yourself and what it has to say about oppression is really engaging. It's presented in a way that makes it clear to younger audiences, while offering something deeper for the adults to enjoy.
Couple that with some surprisingly fun action sequences and you have a really fun movie with great imagery and a solid message. While some couldn't get past the new characters and how they were used, I think Fantastic Beasts is an excellent spin-off and does exactly what it needed to. It managed to establish a new story/characters independent of the franchise we all know and love, without alienating fans. Watching it for the second time at home hasn't dissuaded me from that opinion and it feels like something I'll be able to easily come back to time and again, with the rest of the Harry Potter films.
Sight and Sound
Generally speaking, Warner Bros. has always done a great job with their blu-ray HD transfers, with only a handful of notable exceptions. Fortunately, this time around, they brought their A-game for Fantastic Beasts. Though the film is, ostensibly, a period piece in terms of it's overall design, there are plenty of scenes throughout the film that offer up a more dynamic visual range. This contrast between the stark world of New York, and the magical elements going on behind the scenes is one of the unique elements of the story/design of the film.
The HD transfer does an excellent job of highlighting these contrasts and letting each frame pop. The image is crisp and features deep blacks without any noticeable crushing. This makes the more prominent grays/blues in the "no-maj" sequences stand out, while ensuring the eye candy of the magical world is dazzling.
The sound is given the same high quality treatment, with excellent priority given to the dialog, while keeping the action at a reasonable level. In all, the technical aspects of the blu-ray release are impressive and you'll be hard pressed to find something to complain/worry about in this regard.
The Special Features
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brings a wealth of bonus features on the disc. Here's what you get:
· Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!
o Join J.K. Rowling as she, David Yates and David Heyman return to Leavesden Studios to build a new and exciting corner of the wizarding universe.
o The Magizoologist
o The Goldstein Sisters
o The New Salemers
o The No-Maj Baker
o The President and the Auror
o Meet the Fantastic Beasts
o Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts (360°)
o New York City (360°)
o MACUSA (360°)
o Newt’s Magical Case (360°)
o The Shaw Banquet
o The Blind Pig (360°)
· Deleted Scenes (11 scenes)
Considering it's the first Harry Potter spin-off, and one that's NOT based on any previous book, it's great to see how much extra content they packed on here for fans. If you're wanting to dive deeper into the history of the Wizarding World, and the new stuff introduced in this film, there are a wealth of featurettes to help you out.
While you might not be watching these more than once, they offer some excellent background on the characters, creatures, and organizations that we'll undoubtedly be seeing more of in the future films. If you're a fan of the Wizarding World, there's a lot to enjoy, with plenty of bang for your buck in the release.