In a previous post Loes already shared her raving first impressions of our joint viewing. I completely agree with every word she said, so I’m not going to go into it from that angle again. Instead, I’ll take you on a more analytical trip of the movie. I’m acting on the assumption that anyone reading this, either doesn’t mind spoilers, or has already seen the movie.
Well, Harry Potter fans have grown up, and it’s glaringly obvious the producers at Warner Bros are well aware of that fact. The film is catered towards their needs, with protagonists of approximately their age, and storylines they can relate to. Consequently, the film features scenes that are disturbingly dark and at times it may be hard for children to grasp what’s going on exactly. We were treated to a chorus of whining and even crying children after a particularly ominous scene, followed by parents all around trying to comfort them. They are going to be soothing nightmares for weeks to come. Please do yourselves and the other spectators a favour, and don’t make this a family outing. Your children have all the magic of the original Potterverse to enthrall them. Let it.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go back to all the magical goodies they’ve put into the movie.
We did our waiting. Five years of it. Luckily, not in Azkaban. And then, there is Hedwig’s theme, instantly sucking you back in as the Warner Bros’ logo faded from the screen. The music artfully morphs into its own score, creating its own identity apart from the existing world. James Newton Howard did a splendid job composing a repertoire that is so similar to the music we all associate with Harry’s magic, and yet so completely different. As the narrative progresses, Howard skillfully accentuates the highs and lows of what’s happening. Gradually, as the story delves deeper into the darkness, the music follows suit. What I particularly love about the soundtrack, is that every beast got its own melody. I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this piece, and as the music shifts, the picture in my head becomes that of the animal portrayed.
The music isn’t the only thing progressing throughout the movie. We already know Rowling is famously skilled at writing real characters, with layers, warts and all. They’re human and faulty, and we love them for it. Every scene gives us a new glance into Newt’s inner workings, revealing both his strengths and his weaknesses. Redmayne has a proclivity for playing the not-so-typical heroes, it seems. It’s no wonder they cast him as Newt: he’s everything society tells us men shouldn’t be. He’s sensitive, non-volatile, he expresses a wide range of emotions. He’s vulnerable and kind. He’s a true Hufflepuff. Redmayne’s portrayal was spot on. Bustle author Emma Lord did an amazing piece on the subject, explaining how exactly Newt defies the tropes of toxic masculinity. A recommended read.
It’s not only the protagonist. Rowling managed to give most of her characters realistic nuances. Though a lot of them start out as a stereotype, something will occur to show us their deeper layers. There’s the gullible, dumb, No-maj sidekick, who turns out to be quite courageous when push comes to shove. The female lead is an auror who got degraded because she let her emotions cloud her judgement. She then proceeds to turn that so-called weakness into a strength that would have let her save the day, hadn’t others prevented it. Even the soft-spoken Queenie seems to be floating through it all. She herself describes her sister as the one with all the potential, when in fact she’s one of the most skilled Legilimens ever seen in the franchise. Not even Voldemort was that naturally skilled at it.
Apart from our four heroes, there were a lot of other interesting character developments. Graves was shown as an ambitious mentor to his former protegé, but is gradually revealed to be manipulative and deceitful. Again, a nice dig from Rowling towards the toxic male stereotype. Even Picquery, who isn’t given a lot of screen time at all, defies gender norms and cultural expectations, yet is shown to be feminine to the bone at the same time. She’s a character little girls can aspire to be like. The only thing I liked a little less, was the lack of diversity among the cast. Picquery is the only person of colour, and a rather pale one at that, with more than a few lines. And yes, haters will say that’s due to the zeitgeist of the depicted time, but that shouldn’t be an excuse in this time and age if you ask me.
However, that does bring us to my next point of interest. The completely new setting and era. Not unlike Tolkien, J.K. Rowling has her entire world mapped out in her head. Lucky for us, she shared a fraction of that world through Pottermore. It isn’t exactly necessary to know the magical history of the USA in order to understand the movie. I do, however, recommend you read the article before entering the cinema, if only to fully comprehend everything that’s going on onscreen. When the movie opens, we enter the USA through Ellis Island together with Newt. The world he walks into, is completely different from what we’re all used to. No British accents, because obviously, we’re in New York. No castles, but skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Not a closeted environment where students are fumbling and stumbling segregated from muggle society. Instead we’re surrounded by No-majs, infiltrated by skilled and full-fledged wizards and witches. It’s interesting to see how they interact with each other while at the same time being forced to avoid mingling. We’re immediately shown how blatantly easy it is for wizardkind to get around Muggle/No-maj regulations as Mr. Scamander goes through customs. He later even manages to rob a bank without actually robbing it. Wizard regulations are a little bit harder to escape, as our hero will soon discover. MACUSA operates completely separate from the actual US government, and has strict rules set in place to prevent discovery. Not that easy when travelling with a wanton Niffler set on gathering as many shiny objects as he can get his little paws on. This forced segregation between No-majs and wizardkind is a nice metaphor for the actual segregation between People of Colour and Caucasians back in the day. It is therefore quite striking that the President of MACUSA was a black woman in a time when No-maj women barely had the right to vote.
The distinction between the Harry Potter world we know and the world we’re currently viewing, is deepened even more by the costume department. They did a great job incorporating magical elements in the style of the day. I can imagine Daisy Buchanan being enthralled by Queenie’s wardrobe (I know I am!), and wouldn’t put it past Jordan Baker to try on Tina’s pant-suit. It’s a nice change from all the black school uniforms we’ve become so used to seeing.
All in all, I think Rowling did another amazing job, and I personally am very much looking forward to seeing how the rest of the plotlines pan out. Especially if a young Albus Dumbledore comes into play!
Ps, can you guess where Grindelwald first came into contact with an Obscurus? You might want to reread the parts about Ariana Dumbledore 😉