MOVIE REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

written by David Steffen

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fantasy action/adventure movie tie-in to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe,  distributed by Warner Bros pictures in 2016.  It shares a title with one of Harry Potter’s textbooks in the Harry Potter series, written by Newt Scamander.  And it has also been published as a standalone book by J.K. Rowling in 2001.

In 1926, before he wrote his famous book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander traveled to the United States with a magical bag full of magical beasts, in order to return one of them to its native habitat in the American southwest. Newt accidentally switches bags with a local N0-Maj (the American word for “Muggle” or non-magic-user), an aspiring baker.  Demoted Auror (hunter of dark wizards) Tina Goldstein arrests him for the disturbance caused by one of the escaped creatures, but they decide to work together to find the bag and contain all the escaped creatures again.  Meanwhile, something magical and powerful is killing people in the city, but Newt is certain it’s not one of his creatures.  But the only way to prove that is to recapture all the creatures again.  There is an anti-magic in New York at the time, led by No-maj (another word for Muggle, a non-magic-user)Mary Lou Barebone, head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society.  The anti-magic sentiment is strong in New York at this time and any magician caught is in danger from the No-Maj population, as well as risking the larger magical society, and Newt’s activities here aren’t exactly legal even within the magical population.

This movie was a lot of fun!  Largely because it’s great to have a chance to jump back in the Wizarding World since the main line of Harry Potter books and movies is over.  This is the first foray (at least that I remember) into the USA Wizarding World and it’s interesting to see how the laws and customs and wordage are different in the American setting than the British.  Although the characters are only familiar in a vague historical sort of way, there is plenty here to engage the watcher, and Newt is an interesting character with at least some laudable goals even if he does seem to make an art of self-delusion (“these creatures aren’t dangerous!” as he works very hard to prevent them murdering random passersby).  It works better than any of the Harry Potter movies in my opinion, and I think the reason for that is there’s no book source to compare it unfavorably to, while the Harry Potter movies were all books first that were adapted into movies, this was made to be a movie.

Action packed, a fun return to the universe we know and love but on a new continent we haven’t seen in Harry Potter stories.  A lot of fun!

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

written by David Steffen

The Harry Potter movie series is almost complete. Just one more movie to go after this one, which will cover the second half of the 7th and final book in the series. If you haven’t read/seen the first six in the series, then you really ought to stop now–there’s no way to discuss this without major SPOILERS to the earlier books.


The Deathly Hallows as a whole takes on the final conflict between the forces of good led by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix rebel organization, and the forces of evil led by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (aka Voldemort) and his army of Death Eaters. The forces of good have recently taken a huge loss with the death of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and the only person Voldemort has ever feared. Not only that, but the death was at the hands of Severus Snape, who had been working undercover as a member of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. Dumbledore trusted Snape absolutely, despite many objections from other members of the Order.

The stakes in this tale are higher than ever. The protective charms protecting Harry while he lives at the Dursleys’ are still in place until his seventeenth birthday, but with that birthday fast approaching, the Order of the Phoenix has to set up drastic plans to ensure he can be safely moved from the Dursleys’ to a secure location. The story starts off full of action. Although the movie glosses over this, Harry, Hermione, and Ron decide to skip their seventh year at Hogwarts. Instead, they devote their entire attention to seeking out Voldemort’s four surviving Horcruxes on their quest to defeat him once and for all.

My Thoughts (and spoilers)

All in all, this movie was much more faithful to its book than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Half-Blood Prince, movie 6, was particularly bad in this respect, cutting out many important scenes and replacing them with long drawn out scenes that were fluffy digressions and violate long-standing story rules (such as the hard and fast rule in the series that humans cannot apparate into or out of the Hogwarts grounds. This one was pretty much on-track all the way through, though I did see a few notable changes. Splitting this book into two movies was a very good move, because there is just too much ground to cover comfortably in two hours. Movies 4, 5, and 6 have each had to cut significant parts out to squeeze it into even a 2.5 hour movie, and because this is the last book in the series there’s not much that can be cut out that doesn’t seriously change the final effect of the series.

Unlike all of the other movies, this is not really a complete story arc, but that should come as no surprise with the “Part 1” in the title. It actually picks a very dark place to end the film with Voldemort laying hands on a powerful artifact that he has been seeking throughout the movie.

And the first half of this book was one of my least favorite parts of the series and not what I would call Rowling’s best work. The opening is good, action-packed, and the wedding of Bill and Fleurs is a nice touch before everything goes downhill, but then for several hundred pages I have two big peeves. Both of these are peeves I have with the book, so the fact that they are present in the movie just means that they were faithful in their reproduction:
1. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are on the run. Most of this time they seem to spend bitching at each other about whatever comes to mind. There is a reason for this bickering, but this gets old really fast.
2. The trio have a pretty much impossible task ahead of them, in the tradition of large scale fantasy plots, which is great. But the way they’re able to surmount most of this is simply wild coincidences. Three Ministry officials happen to pass by that they can capture and Polyjuice with no effort. They run into Umbridge in the elevator, who happens to be wearing the locket. Dumbledore’s gift of the Deluminator has a secondary purpose suddenly revealed that seems to be nothing but a Deus Ex Machina convenience.

Overall, though, I thought they did a very nice job with it, but I will be much more excited to see Part 2, and to see how they pull off the grand finale.

What was changed (Spoilers)

In case anyone’s curious what they changed, I only noticed a few things that really stood out, though I haven’t read it since the book was first released:
1. Hedwig died in a different manner. In the book, she was loaded in her cage on the back of Hagrid’s flying motorcycle. The motorcycle crashes into the ground at high velocity and Hedwig dies in the crash. In the movie, Harry lets her free before the chase, but she catches up to them and attacks the Death Eater who is chasing Harry. She’s killed by a green curse in retaliation, perhaps an Avada Kedavra.
2. Peter Pettigrew dies in a different manner. In the book, he actually shows mercy on Harry, but his silver hand, given to him by Voldemort, acts against his will and strangles himself. In the movie, Dobby strikes him down in some unexplained way, perhaps through his elf magic.
3. The opening scene with Hagrid and Harry on Hagrid’s motorcycle embellished way too much, having them driving on London freeways as the trailing Death Eater tosses curses that destroy innocent drivers.
4. Polyjuice potions in the movie only change appearances, but not voices. This is inconsistent with earlier movies, and also does not make sense–how can it make an effective disguise if the voice is all wrong.