Series: Harry Potter; Fantastic Beasts, #1
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pub. Date: 2016
Genre: Modern Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Screenplay
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I waited too long to see the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I will hopefully see the last full week of February when it comes to my university. Failing that, I will see it after it comes out on DVD. I am reviewing the screenplay with unspoiled eyes.
In the 1920s, Newt Scamander, a magizoologist and future author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, travels to the United States to return a Thunderbird to its natural habitat. He meets a No-Maj (Muggle) factory worker who wants to open a bakery, Jacob Kowalski, and they accidentally swap cases. Tina Goldstein, who is trying to regain favor as an Auror, follows him and arrests him for being an unregistered wizard. She takes him to the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) where he is released. Several magical creatures have escaped Newt’s case and are wreaking havoc in New York. Newt rushes to recollect them, dragging Jacob and Tina into the mess. Meanwhile, the New Salem Philanthropic Society is trying to warn the world of the existence of and danger of wizards. One of the children of the No-Maj woman heading this is offered a chance to escape his abusive mother. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay expands our view of the Wizarding World and introduces us to magical creatures through Newt’s eyes.
It was wonderful to read the magical words of J.K. Rowling, which the Cursed Child script lacked. The clever turns of phrase, dialogue and action were written in the way I expect a Harry Potter book to be in script form.
The creatures behaved sweetly. They were like children or good friends to Newt, and that carried into their behavior. What can I say? They grew on me. I wish there had been more description about the creatures’ appearance, but Rowling included enough to give the animators a clue of where to go with the designs.
The only characters I had a clear picture of were Newt and Jacob, but that is from seeing enough of the same trailer to remember who they are. Oddly, I do not know what any of the other characters look like, based on the actors who played them. I could see Newt’s expressions as he interacted with each beast. Most of his development is in his interactions with the creatures and a piece of his history. Tina is developed very well with not only her current ambitions and worries but also her history with the other American characters. It was nice to have a Muggle in the story because he brings fresh eyes into the Wizarding World and the workings of the MACUSA. His goals collided with the magical world in such an exciting way. He fit so well into the narrative. I also liked that Jacob guessed at the pronunciations of words he heard, and I loved that he said “youse.” It fits him. Queenie was less developed, but she feels like an intended flat character. The romance is there, but it was not built up enough to have seen it coming beyond them all being together. The characters of the New Salem/Second Salem Society were not developed enough to hold my interest or to grow.
The Second Salem folks were out of place. They were hardly present in the story, minus handing out pamphlets, until one scene that shows an interaction Tina had with them. The members of the organization felt irrelevant until halfway through the story. Some of the problem for me is that this felt like it was part of a political message from J.K. Rowling, and I do not believe that the Salem Witch Trials would affect the American wizarding community more than the centuries of witch trials and the Inquisition would on the European wizarding community.
Some of the messages I read made me think “how dare you, J.K.?” That made me put the book down for a week, but when I dove back in, I enjoyed the story. I saw other themes: love animals, Muggles are dangerous, and deceit.
I wonder if J.K. Rowling will continue publishing the scripts of the next two Fantastic Beasts movies. This book is beautiful, and I imagine that future scripts would receive the same treatment. The cover alone brings the magic of Harry Potter back. If the movies continue to be set in the ’20s, it would work to continue the magical designs and illustrations, like the one above, that MinaLima produced. The illustration above is one example from the script that seemed to act as a marker for the start of an act or the start of a new section of scenes. On a last note, a glossary of screenwriting terminology is provided at the back of the book.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, by J.K. Rowling, is as fantastic as the title, though I hold some reservations about the Second Salem group and the messages she writes in this. If you are already a fan of Harry Potter, you will enjoy this movie. From having never seen the movie, the story and script are easy to follow and enjoy. You can feel the magic.