Friday, Nov. 18, was the premiere of J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the latest film installment in her wizarding world franchise. While it is not a prequel to the Harry Potter series, it is related. Taking place in New York City during the 1920s, the movie follows protagonist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist. Scamander adventures throughout the city, trying to collect magical creatures that have escaped his case when it was opened by a No-Maj (non-magical person) and unlikely friend, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Newt is the author of one of the Hogwarts’ textbooks we see in Harry Potter, of the same name as this movie. His story takes place during the terrorizing of Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, the villain before Lord Voldemort and direct contemporary (and enemy) of Albus Dumbledore.
The new setting we are introduced to is starkly contrasted to the world of magic we thought we knew. The American wizarding community, first presented to us on Rowling’s website, Pottermore, earlier this year, appears to be influenced by the historical struggles we are all familiar with. With the Great Depression, prohibition of alcohol and other rampant oppression, it’s no surprise that American wizarding culture has been pushed even deeper into hiding than its European counterparts. It’s a society in which it’s illegal for wizards to even befriend No-Majs, let alone marry them. All magic has to be done in secret and if there are any non-magic witnesses, they have to be charmed to forget. The Second Salem movement played a major part in this story and was a push for the revival of the Salem Witch Trials, an effort to expose and stamp out magic, further illustrating the oppressive nature of the time. This suppression, violence and fear, as well as the older age of the characters, created a very different, noticeably darker environment and story than the wonder and amazement we experienced as we learned about magic alongside Harry Potter.
Much of the beginning of the film is spent adjusting to the different society and time period but, for the most part, the movie is pretty predictable. This predictability was surprising considering the movie was directed toward a slightly older audience than the Potter films and because it was not based off of a previously-written book. The amount of actual magic the audience was shown, aside from the stunning animation of the “beasts,” was generally underwhelming compared to the Harry Potter series. Because this movie was released without a book preceding it, there was a serious lack of introduction to the U.S. wizarding world as well as to the characters. However, Eddie Redmayne portrayed the quiet, awkward and uncomfortable Scamander brilliantly. Katherine Waterston (Porpentina Goldstein) and Ezra Miller (Credence) also stole the show, giving us new characters to fall in love with.
The final takeaway from this highly anticipated movie is that it was better than the “Cursed Child” screenplay released earlier this summer, which many found disappointing. While I wasn’t necessarily disappointed with “Fantastic Beasts,” seeing as I had no expectations going into it, I definitely wasn’t satisfied. “All will become clear. Trust me,” Rowling tweeted about one of the cliffhangers presented by the film. One thing is for sure though, J.K. Rowling has us hooked again, even though this was a world completely distinct from what Potter fans are used to. For now, all we can do is look forward to is the next four installments of the “Fantastic Beasts” series, in which we can expect J.K. Rowling to build up the complexities of a new story, intertwine characters and install her signature plot twists in giving us many more years of magic.
Julia Mancini is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.