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Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (Blu-ray Review)

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.

Film 

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!

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’s Blu-ray comes with a little bit of a surprising image. While I get what they are going for here, I expected a tad more pop.  The film has a sort of matte finish look to it, with some of the expected colors and stuff to appear much more restrained and dingier than expected. That’s just how its intended to look I supposed.  The image is still pretty darn sharp and has this look that appears some light grain is present.  Details are pretty abundant although a few times a scene or two might have a smooth looking moment.  All the digital effects and creatures translated to this Blu-ray well and look a natural, real enough, piece of the image.

Depth: Depth work goes pretty good here.  The film was released in 3D so, its well ready to look that way.  Spacing is very good and the characters are able to frolic in a free sense with cinematic gesture and now jitter or blurring was noticeable on my viewing.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich.  It carries a little bit of a gray look at times.  Some black colored suits and clothing don’t hide detail, but pinstripes, patterns and texture can be harder to see. No crushing was witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction: The palette here feels a bit toned down from the burst you may be expecting it to be.  It feels right with the look the film seems to be going for. Blues are a real standout here, as well as green in some areas.  This image seems to be full of browns and rustic looking yellows.  Magical bursts from wands carry some of the more vivid displays of color in the film.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones carry a mostly natural look with a hint of being cooler and hold that appearance throughout the film’s duration.  Facial details like wrinkles, make-up, lip texture, moles, sweat, freckles and more come through triumphantly in close-ups and fare pretty well in medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

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, Portuguese

Dynamics: Newt Scamander gets to debut at home with more prestige on Blu-ray than Harry ever did; with Dolby Atmos! 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.

Extras 

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them comes with the DVD edition and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

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”

Summary 

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a great start to an extension of the Harry Potter mythology.  It features some really fun new characters to go along with magical adventure and action like we haven’t seen yet in this world.  This Blu-ray features a terrific audio and video presentation of the film and is loaded with all the right focused extras.  The only thing absent you may be left wanting is a commentary with J.K. Rowling and David Yates.  An easy Day 1 pickup not just for fans of the Harry Potter series, but anyone into blockbuster, spectacle fantasy entertainment.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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