'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
Grab your wands and spell books, wizards n' witches, because the world of Harry Potter is back for the long haul. J.K. Rowlings' Fantastic Beasts and Where to find Them is the first in a set of five upcoming movies. Instead of modern day London or Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts takes place in 1920s New York, which is around the same time that King Kong would have been climbing buildings.
In other words, before Harry Potter became the Boy Who Lived, this whole fantastical tale took place.
We meet Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he travels from England to the USA to set a beast of a bird free in Arizona, but because Scamander is a bumbling, clumsy young man, he loses his literal briefcase full of beasts in New York City.
Meanwhile, evil wizard Gellert Grindewald has teamed with anti-wizard U.S. group to take out Scamander and other wizards and witches. Scamander finds help on his quest with two sisters named Tina and Queenie Goldstein. They work for the U.S.A.’s version of the Ministry of Magic, called the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is led by a sinister, yet conflicted man named Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), who believes Newt is actually co-conspiring with Gellert Grindewald.
Returning to the director's chair after helming the last four Potters, filmmaker David Yates knows the world of Harry Potter very well and leaves the kid jokes at the curb. Fantastic Beasts is a very dark film, although it is filled with wonder and amazing creatures. Yates and Rowling fully immerse you into the magical world of wizards again, with different spells, fun buildings and creatures, and hints of bigger back stories that are not yet fully told. This setup of a film introduces us to some great characters and plot points that will be the focus of future films without giving much away here, which was a nice touch. There are some mentions of a few characters from the Harry Potter films, though I'd argue Fantastic Beasts stands on its own.
The world here is bleak and full of adult themes, leaving the funny kid jokes on the back burner, which, I admit, I miss. But the new comic relief comes from Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a muggle whose dream is to open up a bakery. By just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is tangled up with Newt and this world of magic, and he steals every scene he is in. I really hope they bring him back for future films in a big way.
Fantastic Beasts is a great start to a new Potter franchise, despite its inherent bleakness.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - 3D comes with a 50GB 3D Blu-ray Disc and the standard Blu-ray Disc from Warner Bros. that are Region A Locked. There is an insert for a Digital HD copy plus a second insert for miscellaneous promo items. The discs are housed in a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3D comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I guess Warner Bros. will keep releasing 3D Blu-rays until the format is officially dead, which seems to be the coming soon since most TV manufacturers are done with the format.
Fantastic Beasts was not shot in 3D, however, the filmmakers had 3D in their minds while shooting, due to the pop out effects of debris, newspapers, and animals flying at you on screen. When discussing 3D, it's almost always true that the image is darker and the detail seems to lose some of its value. That's not really the case with Fantastic Beasts though. The detail is very much intact from start to finish and the image isn't darker than the standard Blu-ray edition. The filmmakers gave 1920's New York a very gloomy look here with vague grays, silvers, and browns that look decayed.
When in the magical world or in a room with the protagonists, the colors warm up quite well that pop off the screen. None of the colors in this 3D presentation looked muted in any way, which was delightful. The 3D does add some depth and fun to the film here. When the creatures wreak havoc in the city, busting through glass windows or walls, you'll be able to see each shard of glass or piece of wood fly at the screen and looks excellent in this 3D presentation. When Newt discovers the majestic and large rooms with tons of floors and staircases, the depth looks incredible and gives you a sense of just how grand the visual effects are.
Detail reveals tiny details in close ups nicely without ever going soft. The black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are natural as well. There were some very minor aliasing during the heavier action scenes, but it's not a major problem by any means.
If you're a fan of 3D, this is a good film to have.
I'm not quite sure why Warner Bros. left out the AMAZING Dolby Atmos track here on the 3D release, but it's nowhere to be found. Instead we have the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 mix, which is definitely great, but when the other releases have the Dolby Atmos option, why not give it to this 3D release to fully immerse yourself into this magical world?
Again, this lossless DTS-HD 5.1 mix is very good, but it lacks the overhead sound elements when the creatures are flying around, magic spells are being cast, or debris is flying overhead. With the Dolby Atmos mix, you'll hear sounds zoom past diagonally and overhead in a seamless motion, but with DTS-HD 5.1 mixes, it's fairly standard front to back. It still gets the job done for sure and packs a hefty punch in the heavier action sequences, but it would have been nice to see that Dolby Atmos option here as well.
Dialogue is clear and easy to follow along in every instance and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and shrills. Sound effects are robust and lively from start to finish as well. The score always adds to the suspense in each scene without drowning out any other sound aspects. The bass kicks into high gear during the bigger action sequences without crossing into rocky territory.
This is a great audio presentation, but I wish the Dolby Atmos was available as well.
The 3D Disc contains no extras, but the standard Blu-ray contains the previous extras, which are listed below.
Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins (HD, 16 Mins.) - The four main actors, along with Rowling, Yates, and a couple of producers, discuss how the new stories and characters were developed, written, and executed for the screen.
Characters (HD, 25 Mins.) - There are five different segments here where Rowling and the rest of the crew, including costume designer Colleen Atwood talk about the new characters, their origins, and their look and wardrobe.
Creatures (HD, 22 Mins.) - Rowling and the director, as well as a number of the visual effects maestros, discuss the different creatures and how they were made. There are seven different short segments for each beast in the film.
Design (HD, 36 Mins.) - Production Designer Stuart Craig and a few other crew talk about the look of the film in general. There are six different segments where they discuss how the made 1920's New York, the magical side, and some of the other prominent locations of the film.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 15 Mins.) - There are 11 deleted scenes in total here with what seems like full visual effects. All of the scenes are worth watching and are quite fun and give some more insight and entertaining moments with each character.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - 3D release sure looks good in 3D. Unlike most 3D films, this image isn't darker or does it suffer from image clarity and detail. There is an added depth to the 3D image with some fun pop out effects throughout.
On the other hand, the audio presentation lacks the Dolby Atmos track that was available on the other releases. Instead, we get the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 mix, which is good, but why skimp out on the Atmos? The extras are worth watching, but on the technical side. If you're a big fan of 3D, or someone who prioritizes 3D over immersive audio, then this one is recommended for you. Otherwise, stick to the 2D or UHD options.