If there is one person who would thoroughly enjoy Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, it would be none other than Lord Voldemort.
That’s because the movie is set in a wizarding world in which Harry Potter doesn’t exist, and don’t we all know that a universe without the bespectacled boy wizard is what the Dark Lord has always desired.
Fantastic Beasts is set in the year 1926, interestingly also the year in which Voldemort is born (his birthday is on Dec 31, just in case you’re interested), but there is a different awkward Brit in the centre of attention in place of Harry. Say hello to Newt Scamander.
Harry Potter buffs would definitely recognise the name; Newt is the author of the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them textbook used by first year students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Did you know that this textbook is also available to Muggles? In 2001, JK Rowling (under the pseudonym Newt Scamander) brought the fictional textbook to life as part of a project for charity.
“When I wrote the little book, the character of Newt appealed to me, and I had some thoughts of what happened to Newt and who Newt was. But at that stage, I’d never imagined that I would be writing a screenplay,” stated Rowling to the international media at the press conference for Fantastic Beasts in New York City last week.
“Then, when the studio came to me and said that they wanted t do something with Fantastic Beasts, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I better tell them what I’ve got because I wouldn’t want them to get Newt wrong, because I really like Newt’. I started out writing a note, and then I wrote a story, and that story became a screenplay.”
Rowling makes her screenwriting debut on the film, which sees the returns of David Heyman, who produced all eight of the Harry Potter movies, and David Yates, who directed the last four movies in the franchise.
Fantastic Beasts is the first of five movies set over the span of 19 years, and Rowling confirmed that she will write all the screenplays in the franchise.
“It was actually in the process of writing the second script that J.K. realised she wanted to do five movies. With each screenplay, she is getting more and more confident,” said Yates.
This is the first film set in Potterverse that is not based on a book, which gave the filmmakers even more creative freedom.
Heyman said: “You don’t have to have seen a Harry Potter film to enjoy this narrative. If you know Harry Potter, you would enjoy the connective tissues to the 1990s and new millenium, but I think that this movie works on its own terms. However, it’s a real pleasure to tell the story without the burden of knowing that hundreds of millions of people have read the book.
“It’s great to have that freedom of knowing that people can’t go ‘Ooh, they left that out’, ‘Ooh, they kept that’, or ‘We know exactly what is going to happen next’, so that is quite liberating and exciting.”
The debut brings the story of Newt, a self-proclaimed Magizoologist (a person who studies magical creatures), before he had written the textbook that would someday be required reading at his alma mater.
He arrives in New York nearing the end of his global excursion in search and rescue of magical creatures – most of them stored in his trusty, magically-modified briefcase.
Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne, couldn’t have chosen a worse possible time to enter the United States.
The wizarding community lives in secrecy from the No-Majs, which stands for “No Magic” and is the American equivalent to the Brit’s Muggles (regular folks). Adding to their mental strain is the disappearance of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who after wreaking havoc in Europe, is nowhere to be found.
So, here we have Newt and his briefcase full of beasts, when he bumps into No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who in a spate of confusion lets some of the creatures loose in a city already on the edge.
Thrown into the mix are disgraced auror (the FBI agents of Potterverse) Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and suddenly they find themselves facing something more dangerous and sinister than any beast the world has ever seen.
“What I love about this film is that JK Rowling has managed to weave in thriller and comedic elements into a story that is full of heart, and I find it completely moving I got to meet her a week before we started filming, and we only had an hour together. I had so many questions about Newt, and we just talked about Newt,” Redmayne said.
“The reason these films are happening is because she has a story to tell, and she is fiercely protective of her characters and she knows them. What we see is like the tiniest ounce of what she knows.
“It was the most electric conversation about where Newt came from – her heart, the people around her, and her life. It really galvanised me into the beginning of the shooting,” added Redmayne, who was the filmmakers’ first and only choice for the part.
According to Heyman, the Oscar-winner is quintessentially British and an actor for all times who can play a character from any era.
“Eddie is brilliant at getting under a character’s skin and exploring every detail of a role, yet all that effort is invisible. All you see here is Newt – an outsider who is somewhat knotty but winning and engaging,” Heyman offered.
Despite the assurance, Redmayne joked that he cannot rest on his laurels, and won’t believe that he is playing Newt in the entire franchise until he is making the other movies.
“They’ve announced five films, but as neurotic actors, until we are given a script and on set for film two, you won’t believe that one’s happening. There will only be more if this is a film that people enjoy. The most important thing for us was to make this the best possible version of the movie,” Redmayne, 34, said.
Rowling is already writing the screenplay for the second film, scheduled to begin shooting next year. The author hinted that the recent US elections result may have helped speed up the writing process.
“I was in kind of a bleak mood on the way over here, and I thought, I need to work. I took out the second screenplay and did some work on that, and that made me feel a whole lot better,” the billionaire author said.
And now with Johnny Depp’s role as Grindelwald in the upcoming movie confirmed, there is more work for Rowling to intricately tie his character to one that is beloved in the Potterverse – Albus Dumble-dore.
The author had previously stated that Dumbledore and Grindelwald have an interesting secret past that forged them into the powerful wizards on the opposite ends of life.
Rowling declined to elaborate however, saying “Watch this space”, when asked if fans should look forward to any romantic inkling between the characters in the upcoming film.
But Heyman assured that like all of Rowling’s movies, the underlying themes of the Potter books are in evidence throughout the franchise – friendship, loyalty, the virtue of tolerance in contrast to the dangers of intolerance and repression, being true to who you are, outsiders coming together and connecting.
“There is an emotional universality and relevance to those ideas that are utterly relatable to people across the globe,” he said. “The beasts may be in the title, but it’s the humans who are the heart of the story.”