Monday, November 21, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

1.5/4

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight

Rated PG-13 for Some Fantasy Action Violence

The success of the "Harry Potter" film franchise took everyone by surprise.  The idea was to make a few bucks off the movies and milk it for as long as they could.  No one expected to film the entire franchise.  But that's what happened, and Warner Bros. was drowning in cash.  The problem is that There were only seven books in the franchise.  Dividing the final chapter into two parts (a wise move, all things considered) stretched things out for a bit longer, but there was no getting around the fact that the story ended.  So what's a studio to do when their cash cow runs out of gas?  Why, do a spin-off.

J.K. Rowling penned a few small "reference" books for the world she created, most notably, "Quidditch Through the Ages," "The Three Tales of Beetle the Bard," and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."  Of those, only "Beetle the Bard" has an actual plot, although it's an anthology of stories.  But that really doesn't matter.  Warner Bros. only cares about the brand recognition; any story cooked up by a semi-literate screenwriter will do.  Unfortunately, the brand recognition is the only thing they cared about.  The script is a disaster, and David Yates, who did fine work on the last few "Harry Potter" movies, goes into special effects overkill mode.

As anyone versed in Harry Potter lore knows, the reference book "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was written by Newt Scamander (Redmayne).  The film follows him on his adventures to create this reference book.  He's come to the U.S. to find a rare creature for his collection, but they are inadvertently released in New York City.  Now Newt, an ex-Auror named Tina (Waterston), Tina's sister Queenie (Sudol) and a No-Maj named Jacob (Fogler) have to hunt them down.  Meanwhile, a government official named Percival Graves (Farrell) is conniving with a weak-willed boy for his own reasons.

That's as far as I got when it came to the plot.  The story rarely makes sense, and when it does, it's annoying how trite it is.  That's because the movie is all special effects.  I mean, 100% special effects.  Like, there's hardly a shot in this film that doesn't have some CGI in it.  This isn't over-the-top, it's overkill.

The actors, some of whom are quite talented, fail to distinguish themselves.  Eddie Redmayne does what he can in the central role, but it's a losing battle against the action and noise.  The best thing I have to say about Katherine Waterston is that she looks cute and can cry convincingly.  If she wants to have a long career in the movies, she'd better improve on her acting skills when she takes the lead role in "Alien: Covenant" next August.  Colin Farrell looks positively bored; when an actor appears in a movie simply for the money or for contractual obligations, it's usually obvious.  Never more so than here.  Carmen Ejogo is awful as the President of the Magical World in the US.  Highly talented actors Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller and Jon Voight appear, but none of them have much to do.

Movies like this piss me off.  It's a studio risk aversion and greed at its worst.  They have a terrific franchise with a high standard of quality, lots of fans, and a great cast.  What do they give us?  $180 million dollars worth of noise and special effects.  Would it have killed them to have written an actual screenplay?  J.K. Rowling herself is credited with writing the screenplay, but I have a hard time imagining that she would bastardize her creation with something this insipid.  Only studio meddling could be responsible for such a disaster.

This is one of those movies where you wish you could go up to everyone involved and tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves.

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