'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 Ultra HD Blu-ray
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes with a dual-layered UHD66 Disc and a 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 an eco-friendly, hard, black plastic case with a cardboard sleeve.
Warner Bros. conjures up a 4K UHD spell with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which has an HEVC H.265 encode in 2160p in HDR10 with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This release has a digital download code as well as the standard Blu-ray version, in addition to the 4K disc. There is no 3D option here. I know the standard Blu-ray release has a perfect video score, which it deserves, but with this upgraded 4K UHD version, every aspect of the video quality is next level.
There is an extra notch of clarity in the detail as well as an uptick in color in every scene that makes every creature and landscape literally pop off screen, without having any 3D. You'll be able to see the smallest textures on the skin of every creature and every makeup blemish on the actors' faces. Cobblestone roads in old New York show every imperfection and piece of mud. Wider shots of the magical realms inside the briefcase, as well as 1920s New York, reveal every nuanced detail, giving this image a ton of depth. When there are wizard battles with each wand, you'll be able to see every light spark out very well.
When buildings explode or fall down, all of the debris looks incredibly textured and detailed as it travels through various light sources and looks amazing. Colors are well saturated, bright, bold, and striking throughout. Whereas the gloomy New York cityscape looked gloomy on the standard Blu-ray, now looks more realistic and brighter, while adding the elements of rain and fog throughout. The various shades on the creatures change in the varying lighting scenarios without ever becoming vague or off-color.
Skin tones are natural and realistic, and black levels are deep and rich. In the darker scenes, no detail or color is lost here, keeping everything looking vibrant. There were zero instances of any compression issues or noise, leaving this improved 4K UHD presentation with top of the line marks.
This release comes with Dolby Atmos and 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks, both of which sound fantastic. If you have the option to go with the Dolby Atmos track, please do so, because it just immerses you more into this magical world. Warner Bros. has done an excellent job with every noise and sound effect. All of the beasts have significantly different noises, from high pitch screams to low-end roars, and the design perfectly captures every unique sound.
Directionality is perfect throughout, with the overhead details of debris falling and the rain sounding spectacular. Ambient noises, of other beasts and people chattering on the street, are full and robust and sound great in the rear speakers. Wands ooze magic, sounding strong and forceful, but never too overpowering. Dynamics, whether the characters are outside or in a tunnel, are also outstanding, with the pitch perfect echoes and a full sense of immersion.
The score always adds to the wonder and suspense, without drowning out any other sound aspect. The low end packs a ton of bass that never crosses into rocky territory, giving the presentation a ton of depth. Lastly, dialogue is crystal clear and easy to follow -- and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills -- leaving this audio presentation with amazing marks.
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 is a solid film. There is a ton of setup and new characters and motivations that will play out in future films. It's a darker tone than the previous Potter films for sure, but it still has some light-hearted moments. There are some small pacing problems, and some of the characters seem one-note, but hopefully that changes in future films.
The 4K UHD version is a big upgrade from the standard Blu-ray version, even though the standard release looks great as well. There is more depth, color, and nuanced vivid detail in this 4K version. Highly Recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.