The wizarding world of Harry Potter led one of the most impressive runs in cinematic franchise history. Not only did all seven books in the series get adapted, but there were eight films. Aside from one major change due to a death, the films managed to keep its cast intact for the entire telling of J.K. Rowling’s story. Harry Potter started before brand IP became a major thing and it left us as it was becoming one. Being that its one of the most successful and popular cinematic IPs ever, it could only lay dormant for so long. What direction to go with it now that a major eight film story has taken place and the characters completed their important arcs? Well, the answer is backward. J.K. Rowling has returned to give us a new story based loosely off the adventures of a fictional author of a book in the wizarding world. And back in November, we began what is to be a five film journey on its own about events well before even Harry Potter’s parents were around. The magic was not gone, as Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them made almost a billion dollars worldwide. It now makes its way to 4K Ultra-HD and Blu-ray March 28th.
There are growing dangers in the wizarding world of 1926 New York. Something mysterious is leaving a path of destruction in the streets, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the No-Majs (American for Muggles), including the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction bent on eradicating them. And the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, has slipped away…and is now nowhere to be found.
Unaware of the rising tensions, Newt Scamander arrives in the city nearing the end of a global excursion to research and rescue magical creatures, some of which are safeguarded in the magical hidden dimensions of his deceptively nondescript leather case. But potential disaster strikes when unsuspecting No-Maj Jacob Kowalski inadvertently lets some of Newt’s beasts loose in a city already on edge—a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy that former Auror Tina Goldstein jumps on, seeing her chance to regain her post as an investigator. However, things take an ominous turn when Percival Graves, the enigmatic Director of Magical Security at MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), casts his suspicions on both Newt and Tina. Now allied, Newt and Tina, together with Tina’s sister, Queenie, and their new No-Maj friend, Jacob, form a band of unlikely heroes, who must recover Newt’s missing beasts before they come to harm. But the stakes are higher than these four outsiders—now branded fugitives—ever imagined, as their mission puts them on a collision course with dark forces that could push the wizarding and No-Maj worlds to the brink of war.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Them is an incredibly fun journey that does some really great things and argues as one of the best prequels of all time. David Yates’ fifth outing in the Harry Potterverse ends up opening up and expanding the universe in ways we’ve not seen before (Albeit brief if we have). The world is much bigger, grander and feels very open compared to the mostly Hogwarts focused films that came before. We’re dealing with more adult characters and it feels it, while at the same time still carrying the essence of the previous films and sort of “all ages” kind of fare. Its adult without having to be gritty and unfun. Its adult in a very J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter kind of way.
One of the best praises I can give the film is that it has its own complete sense of identity. There are many details and background on what wizards are like and can do that this film doesn’t have to spend time on because we’ve seen eight entries prior, but it also seems like it could be a comfortable entry point for a novice. Fantastic Beasts has its own characters and adventure. What makes it such a great prequel and extension of the universe is that (At least for this film), its focused on its own world and adventure and doesn’t feel the need to connect, make reference or wink at material from the previous films. Hell, its not even loaded with an insane amount of easter eggs. This film is here, that is “for the fans”, it doesn’t sit and try to add any sort of extra service on top of that. In this era of connectivity, franchise readiness, and share universe building, its extremely relaxing and very relieving to see something just concerned with telling its one story and moving on. Yes, the doors are open, but this story holds its own weight, start to finish.
With a new world, new times and new adventures come brand new characters. Eddie Redmayne is an actor that yeah, it just makes sense he’s joining in on this universe as he has a look and vibe perfect for a Harry Potter story. And he delivers here. A unique individual and very akin to what could be a fun side character in a 1980s fantasy film getting his own movie and being flushed out. Joining along is Katherine Waterston, who I don’t know if I’m just attached to her as an actress or its the character here, but I really enjoyed her and hope she’s allowed to come along more for this five film adventure. Her and Redmayne shared some great chemistry. Colin Farrell is pretty good here and its a shame that this’ll be it for him. Ezra Miller does what you pay Ezra Miller to do and I’m sure he’ll be a big part as this story unfolds. Dan Fogler continues to start getting better parts and improving as an actor and once again shines, especially sharing some fun chemistry with the lovable Alison Sudol and seeming to have a lot of fun with Redmayne.
The action in this movie carries what feels like a much bigger scope than previous Harry Potter films. It may just be that we are getting to see wizard battles and destruction in the arena of a full on city. There are many great chases and set pieces in the film that lend themselves to feeling original and unlike stuff we’ve seen before. And that’s impressive because we’ve had eight films prior of wand blasting and spell casting. We have new creates, new magical challenges and attacks. Its all quite impressive and really carries this film along while managing to keep the story strong and never feeling forced.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them arrives incredibly worthy of being a part of the J.K. Rowling mythos that began with “The Boy Who Lived” and his destiny to face “He Who Shall Not Be Named”. It features very fun new characters and a surprisingly fresh take on the magic and action in the series. David Yates handles it giving a feeling familiar yet fresh and new at the same time. Most impressively, unlike a lot of franchise features nowadays, its only concerned with itself and not how it fits or connects everywhere else. No, its not X-Men and just ignores stuff, it adheres perfectly, it just doesn’t sit and point that stuff out every two seconds or make connections that shrink a rather larger world of wonder. This movie sure is where to find a fantastic time!
Encoding: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Clarity/Detail: Wow! The image on this 4K UHD disc is world’s different than the standard Blu-ray. From the start I was struck with awe in how much enhancement there was on detail, color, depth and motion in the picture. It almost feels as if the standard Blu-ray is being looked at through heavy fog in comparison. While I’m sure its not the case, it feels like Warner Bros intentionally botched the regular Blu-ray in a way so that this one looks better. If you’re wanting to convince or show someone what a difference 4K Ultra-HD Discs make, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is the perfect release. It features a wicked sharp and crisp picture and reals detail down to the finest coarse piece of cobblestone on a road. The image full engulfs this experience in a sweeping fantasy that also keeps the digital creatures and effects look well rounded, full and complete piece of the picture, almost improving on it so from the Blu-ray. It makes me almost want to go back and downgrade the score I just recently gave the standard Blu-ray, but what’s done is done.
Depth: Here’s another aspect that’s really impressive and sees a big leap in visual difference. Even the damn WB logo and Fantastic Beasts title screens look really pristine and smooth. I’m pretty sure this film is native 4K, but still it looks really really good. Characters look 3 dimensional in all their environments, free in nice and airy looking spaces. This film was released in 3D and even feels some of that in this 4K UHD counterpart. There is no jitter, no blur, no matter how intense and raucous the situation. The image is just very confident appearance and moves so damn smoothly.
Black Levels: Blacks are deep, nuanced and plenty rich throughout. Details on clothing like fuzz, texture or patterns shows up in darker suits. Dark hair follicles are discernible. The Obscurus, which is smoke/cloud like in appearance, is finely detailed. MACUSA headquarters features some really lovely, rich floor tiling and wall surfaces that are black in color and come across quite nicely in this image. Night sequences and scenes taking place in the shadows all perform admirably with no real loss of detail, just enhanced sharpness and crispness. No crushing was witnessed during the viewing for this review.
Color Reproduction: Whereas before the colors seemed very held back and restrained, they surely burst out here. Right away Newt’s jacket just pops right out, as well as many other articles of clothing in the film. There’s a great palette with plenty saturation just lovingly filling the screen. There are scenes with white halls and rooms that look impressive too. Magical energy is a very vivid and glows here emanating from you screen. Skies also look pretty luscious here, blues fairing better. For a grand example of the colors, look at the scene where Newt takes Jacob into his suitcase where there is a range of terrains, weather and color schemes.
Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural with a consistent appearance from scene to scene, beginning to end. Facial details like make-up, blemishes, stubble, freckles, sweat, lip texture, moles and more are easily discernible from any given reasonable distance. One instance that really knocked my socks off was a medium shot of Newt Scamander and you can see such an easy look on his makeup where he almost looks like he was raccoon-eyes from a sunburn, but its just the scheme of the make-up on his face.
Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD ready), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Chinese Simple, Chinese Traditional, Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese
Dynamics: The 4K UHD release of Fantastic Beasts carries the identical Dolby Atmos track as the standard Blu-ray. This is a pretty awesome track that will make your home theater feel worth every penny you’ve dumped on it. Its a loud, rumbling track that also features really good range and highs. Just the clinging of coins scurrying around and falling on tiled floor during a bank scene in the beginning gives a lot of layered, full, crisp and well realized sound. The mix features a nice weave of score, effects and vocals where everyone gets a chance to take center stage, yet is a part of a respecting team that never upstages or gets in the way of one another. Crank this one up, as it really adds to the experience and adventure.
Height: Ceiling speakers produce very complimentary sounds to the happenings onscreen. Wing flapping, storms, crumbling, echoes and magical bursts provide some unique individualized sounds to go with good supportive ambiance.
Low Frequency Extension: Lots of boom and deep rumble from the subwoofer on this track. Examples include thunder, explosions, stomping, explosions, bursts of energy, loud locking mechanisms and more. The score also boasts some deep pounding hits in it.
Surround Sound Presentation: Lots of fun to go all around her in the 7 channels of bringing this film to life. Every environment is full realized front to back and side to side with little nuances giving you a sense of being present. This film is also full of speaker traveling with extreme precision and accuracy. Character and action placement finds good, accurate volume leveling.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is full, layered and crisp. Even during high energy and very loud action sequences, voices are woven into the mix in a non-distracting and clear fashion.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them comes with the Blu-ray edition and an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the film. All supplemental features are found on the Blu-ray disc.
Before Harry Potter: A New Era Of Magic Begins! (HD, 15:31) – Producer David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, David Yates and the cast bring to life the story of how this film came to be. Heyman, Rowling and Yates really give good background on what made them all return. I especially love Heyman’s mentality of just making 1 great film at a time and not worrying about sequels or spinoffs. The interviews with Redmayne, Waterston, Sudol and Fogler is great because its all of them sitting talking to one another at a table. Cast interviews primarily revolve around the excitement about being a part of the world, meeting Rowling and working with Yates. There is also a lot of on-set footage included as well. No Colin Farrell in this segment.
Characters – These little featurettes are all character focused. They behind the scenes footage as well as interviews with J.K. Rowling, David Yates, costume designer and cast (Including Colin Farrell here on his segment) shaping and building who these characters are. While not specifically labeled here, they do discuss Grindelwald in the final segment for a good couple of minutes and hints that more is to come in the later movies with he and Albus Dumbledore.
- The Magizoologist (HD, 4:14)
- The Goldstein Sisters (HD, 5:04)
- The No-Maj Baker (HD, 4:42)
- The New Salemers (HD, 4:42)
- The President And The Auror (HD, 5:37)
Creatures – Like the previous set of featurettes, this one focuses on the “beasts” or creatures in the film. J.K. Rowling, David Yates, the visual effects team and the cast run through coming up and bringing to life these new creatures. They go over which were their favorites and there is a section dedicate to each of the notable ones. These feature production designs, sketches, pre-visual effects testings, art and on-set footage of effects testing and set ups as well as the process to make it all work in post.
- Meet The Fantastic Beasts (HD, 4:18)
- Bowtruckle (HD, 2:36)
- Demiguise (HD, 2:20)
- Erumpent (HD, 3:42)
- Niffler (HD, 2:29)
- Occamy (HD, 3:09)
- Thunderbird (HD, 2:25)
Design – Primarily this goes over the places in the film, the costumes and the inhabitants of this new world/city in the lore. The normal heads talk, now joined by the design team and Jon Voight (Always forget he’s in this movie) actually has his first couple interview words on this disc here. It also features concept art, footage of set building and design. There is also some insight into some motion capture and character creation (Especially one in The Blind Pig with Ron Perlman).
- Shaping The World Of Fantastic Beasts (HD, 5:54)
- New York City (HD, 7:25)
- Macusa (HD, 7:07)
- Newt’s Magical Case (HD, 4:59)
- The Shaw Banquet (HD, 4:29)
- The Blind Pig (HD, 4:39)
Deleted Scenes (HD, 14:33) – “Major Investigation Department”, “Jacob Tenement”, “Newt’s Case”, “Macusa Cell”, “Creocreatura”, “Tracking Demiguise”, “Suitcase Celebration”, “Skyscraper Roof”, “Obscurus Unleashed Part 1”, “Obscurus Unleashed Part 2”, “Newt Goodbye”
I’m a big fan of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. A prequel story that just focuses on being its one sole adventure to stand alone without beating in connections and littering the film with easter eggs. It focuses on telling this story now and a sequel can be figured out later. This 4K UHD Blu-ray release finds itself to be a massive jump from the standard Blu-ray. The image is a knockout with plenty of great color word on the HDR end and a rather crisp and 3 dimensional look. It carries the same Dolby Atmos audio and finds the bonus features to be on the Blu-ray edition included with this release. Highly recommend, grab THIS version on day 1!