You know, a couple of days ago I saw a Warner Brothers distributed film that was filled with imaginative magical beasts. But due to a poor script, led by people who had been given carte blanche because of their previous successes, the film ended up being a CGI filled snooze fest.
But enough about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies! Lets talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them! #imsuchadick 🙂
I’ve been writing screenplays since 2011 and so far the success has been minimal. An award here, a competition placing there. However, regardless of how well I’ve done, I can tell you the most important thing any screenwriter must learn in one word: Focus.
Alas this lack of focus is only one of many reasons as to why Fantastic Beasts fails as a piece of cinema. While not the worst film of 2016, there’s little more I can add as additional praise.
Fresh off the boat, shy Magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) accidentally sets loose a variety of magical creatures in New York City. Teaming up with witch sisters (Katherine Waterston & Alison Sudolnon) and a “No-Mag” (Dan Fogler), the foursome go on a fun filled adventure in order to pursue and capture the titular beasts…
… and literally end up becoming the most unimportant part of this story.
Because intertwined with said pursuit is government wizard, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a rather dark character with a mysterious end game, teaming up with Credence (Ezra Miller) in order to investigate an anti-magic cult lead by Credence’s mother (Samantha Morton).
This clash of plots is this film’s biggest undoing. One moment there might be the humourous capture of a magical beast, and the next, a brutal public murder. The ability to blend these tones is a skill not easily learned, and is what really shows Rowling to be a little amateurish in her screenwriting.
(I know! I know! She’s a successful philanthropic billionaire author, I’m a unsuccessful poor screenwriter! But I still stand by my point.)
Because of this the film never really engages as well as previous Potter films or even others films of the genre. It’s hard not to conclude that maybe Rowling’s fame and power are what led to such an under-cooked script reaching the big screen. And to be fair, this has happened before with other successful authors turned screenwriters, most recently with Cormac McCarthy’s The Councilor in 2013.
But even a weak script doesn’t explain some of the more baffling directorial decisions made by David Yates. After spending four movies using real make up for characters such as the goblins, it is legitimately perplexing as to why he now decided to use CGI instead.
But it doesn’t stop at the characters as the shoddiness of the CGI effects is apparent in almost every scene, ranging from the blatant green screen in the outdoor New York streets to the uninteresting action sequences.
While my opening comments on the Hobbit movies were meant to be in jest, it seems that Fantastic Beasts has far more in common with poorly made Hobbit movies than should be appropriate. Both are needlessly long, incoherent messes that could easily have been told in half the time. In fact, I honestly believe that this entire film could have been done in a 10 minute prologue attached to the beginning of a second film.
And the ending… Christ, the ending. Highlight the section below to see my thoughts. [SPOILERS]
Even if you ignore the bird related “It was all a dream”-like finale, the ending where Colin Farrell/Percival Graves is actually revealed to be Johnny Depp/Gellert Grindelwald is a borderline crime against cinema.
Now I have nothing against Mr Depp. He’s an excellent actor and I love his work. But just for a second, imagine it wasn’t Johnny Depp. Imagine it was a random male actor that you’d never seen before. How’d you feel about the ending then? It sucks right?
This is why the ending is a complete and utter failure of storytelling. There has been no character buildup of Grindelwald and even the mentions of him are few and far between. The ONLY reason that scene resonates with anyone is because there is a hugely famous actor there rather than a well developed character.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The production team make full use of the $180 million budget with almost every set looking gorgeously intricate. And the casting team deserve a round of applause as every actor wonderfully portrays their roles. A special mention must be made for Alison Sudolnon, a person who was completely unknown to me before now, and yet steals the show in every scene she’s given. I honestly see the next Rebecca Ferguson in the making.
Overall, it’s hard not to be reminded of “Phantom Menace syndrome” from back in 1999. I remember people absolutely loving the film because they had been so starved of Star Wars they were willing to accept anything. (Hell, I was one of them!)
But in the same way that people’s attitudes towards the Phantom Menace cooled, I think most people will look back on Fantastic Beasts and wonder how on earth this was ever considered a passable film.