Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
½*/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Mads Mikkelsen
screenplay by J.K. Rowling & Steve Kloves
directed by David Yates
by Walter Chaw I have watched and reviewed the first nine films in the Harry Potter franchise, skipping the first Fantastic Beasts sequel (though I think I saw it), and for my sins, here I am returning for the eleventh installment with nary a memory of any of them except that I liked the one directed by Alfonso Cuarón. And while I'm glad chief screenwriter Steve Kloves has secured his retirement a few hundred times over, I do lament that the writer-director of The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone didn't make more of those kinds of movies in his nearly 40-year career. Such is the suppurative contagion of the IP age that the best minds of my generation are destroyed by the madness, starving hysterical naked--as Ginsberg might describe them--as they drag themselves through bales of ignominious piffle during their prime creative years. Is this garbage really the best use of Kloves? Of Jude Law? Of Mads Mikkelsen, Katherine Waterston, or Eddie Redmayne? The only person who deserves this mess is Ezra Miller, let's be honest, though even Miller--if one can disregard the harm they inflict on seemingly every other human being in their orbit--is a gifted performer who's also and obviously too good for this. These movies aren't socially destructive in the sense that there's something offensive about them thematically--mainly because there's not a lot about them thematically. They're all second acts in competing Telenovelas: breathless melodramas in which one thing bleeds into the next like cells ravaged by Ebola. There's no hope for an end to the suffering so long as there's money to be squeezed thick from its black buboes: another amusement-park attraction, another opportunity to be relevant in an era where tentpoles are the only currency. Was a time a film with ten sequels was regarded as a cheap joke. That time is now.
It is interesting watching this garble without any memory of the others, in that the effort to make some sense of everything simulates the active viewership one experiences whilst watching good movies. I vaguely remembered Newt (Redmayne) as the hero of this spin-off series, although I could suss no apparent rationale for his being the centre/hero of anything. His affect is so declining and fey I slipped between wondering if he was hiding something or just had to go to the bathroom. Neither are qualities I look for in a protagonist. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (hereafter Potter 11) is about the attempts to bring down the evil wizard Grindelwald (Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp), who is planning on I don't know what. The film opens with Newt rescuing a baby deer creature who can see the future, I think, then having said baby deer--fawn is the term, I suppose--ripped from his arms by Credence Barebone (Miller) and delivered to Grindelwald, who immediately slits its throat so he can see the future reflected in a pool of its blood. What are my thoughts about Potter 11 conjuring a computer animal taken from its so-sad-she-dies mother only to be slaughtered by Hannibal Lecter? I don't have a single thought about it. Oh, just the one: there's an element of the pathetic in trying to elicit pathos first with a Bambi mommy/baby gambit, then with a dead-baby play, yet not having the stones to make it an actual baby, instead subbing in a cartoon magic woodland creature. It seems Credence is in fact a Dumbledore, and not a Clearwater Revival, which probably means something to someone but means nothing to me. Later, Credence and Dumbledore have a wand fight in which Dumbledore tells Credence he IS a Dumbledore. This now reminds me that Jude Law with a beard looks a lot like Ewan McGregor, and that McGregor is involved in another dynastic franchise for the theme park you go to the day after you visit Universal Studios. If this franchise lasts long enough, everyone will be revealed to be a Dumbledore eventually. Tidy.
I think Potter 11 is addressing the rise of white supremacy and fascism in a subplot about Grindelwald running for "Supreme Leader" of the "International Confederation of Wizards," which isn't far from the infantile titles the Ku Klux Klan bestow upon one another. It's the Germans, of course, who fall first to Grindelwald's scheme, ambushing and imprisoning Newt's brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) for the crime of...looking exactly like Eddie Redmayne? I don't know. This movie isn't about jurisprudence, leave me alone. Part of Theseus's backstory is that his fiancée, Leta Lestrange, has died saving the Scamander boys. The name "Lestrange" tickles my memory. It is likely an Easter Egg for fans of this bullshit; is she the mother/sister/aunt of the character Helena Bonham Carter played in some of these things? Please don't tell me. It doesn't matter to me, and it doesn't matter to the movie. It's a thing that if you know it and feel good about knowing triggers a hit of dopamine that can become addictive and is almost the only reason for artifacts like this to exist. They are the cinematic versions of those microtransaction mobile apps, the ones that "ding" when you log in every day, and so you do. There is an additional subplot where baker Kowalski (Dan Fogler), pining for his pretty ex-girlfriend/witch, Queenie (Alison Sudoi), enters the wizarding world to save her, because Queenie is now using her powers of mind-reading for Grindelwald. A note here that the women in this film are not used well, save perhaps Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), who, as the only major Black character in the film, is given an appreciative eye by Black guy Yusuf (William Nadylam), a dispensable supporting character asked to go undercover in the bad guy's lair. That's the sort of choice you make if you're white as a soda cracker but sensitive to diversity, so long as the Blacks stay with their own kind.
I thought through most of Potter 11 what a pity it was these gorgeous environments and exquisite costumes had been employed for no discernible purpose. There's a scene where the Scamanders are running away from a bunch of scorpions when the biggest scorpion suddenly starts shooting lava out of its stinger. It's magic, I don't care where it learned to do this, I don't need the backstory of it as a larva barely through its first moult trains with a bearded Oriental master on the finer points of shooting lava out its ass. But how can one understand the stakes in an action sequence if there was no establishment of geography and weaponry? If anything can happen at any moment, then nothing matters. There are no terms of engagement. It's a lot like the rules J.K. Rowling made for her Quidditch game: garbled nonsense that is the product of, as time has shown, a disorganized mind incapable of recognizing contradictions and averse to being told otherwise. Well into the piece, days and days in perceptual time, the good guys reconvene at Hogwarts School for Wizards, where Dumbledore says, "Things are so much worse!" Yet that doesn't mean anything. Worse how? Were they ever good? What the fuck is happening? I don't think anyone in the film has any idea what's going on, either, because everyone delivers their lines in seven- or eight-word bursts ending with the type of archness that betrays forced confidence. Want to sound like you know what's going on? Talk like Katharine Hepburn on the golf course. You'll be stunned how far bluster will take you in this world. Kids who grew up with this franchise will no doubt experience a tingle when John Williams's "Hogwarts Theme" creeps onto the soundtrack, which should raise the bigger question of how nostalgia and childhood are entirely co-opted by corporations now. Is it even possible for the majority of Americans since 1978 to have a fond memory of childhood without a product to anchor it? Mattel won. Two things linger after all the sturm und drang: that by naming your film "the secrets of," you're coyly suggesting one of the secrets is that Dumbledore is gay as a French holiday. Stop it. The other thing is, I'm not in the mood to be taught an interminable and lesson-free lesson on either homosexuality or fixing an election by that great thinker J.K. fucking Rowling. Your mileage may vary.
THE 4K UHD DISC
Visually, at least, Potter 11 is fifty shades of greyscale. Presented in a 2.39:1, 2160p transfer with HDR10 and Dolby Vision encoding, it's a grim, dank film that does little to show off the UHD format. On those stray occasions where the clouds part, the capabilities of 4K--HDR and the wider colour gamut--almost become a hindrance. For instance, Newt's bright-green stick-bug pal is so vibrant it advertises itself as a computer-generated creation. Blue, teleporting magic chickens introduced at some point within the first two hours of the picture's conclusion are likewise hyperreal to a fault, and all those fantastic beasts can sometimes seem motion-smoothed whether you've activated that feature or not. I realize the visual effects teams on these productions are the best in the world, but I also know they're rarely given enough time or guidance, so there you have it. Fine detail definitely gets a boost: you could count every single aggressive stitch on Newt's greatcoat, every strand of hair on Mikkelsen's bored head, every zero and one expended in the telling of this feckless nothingburger. I can't imagine how this movie could look more faithful to how it was shot. You might think that's praise. It's certainly not a criticism of the image itself. The Dolby Atmos track is similarly immaculate. It's...muscular. I sense it could do a lot more than the film asks it to do. The whooshy-swooshy Doug Henning noises of wands sputtering about explode from every channel. A scene atop a tower where the wind blows through randomly, as drama demands, is powerfully enveloping, while the collapsing of rocks in the scorpion cave rumbles convincingly. Best, it's a marvel at "room tone"--the one or two times the score isn't narrating the emotions you're supposed to be feeling, there is a miraculous sense of space to the soundstage. The proverbial lipstick on a pig.
Find a whole raft of special features on the accompanying SDR Blu-ray. First up is "The Dumbledore Family Tree" (9 mins.), a narrated clips show retracing the wizard's lineage. Just as all that begets begets shit is the most skippable part of the Bible, you have to be a special breed of masochist to enjoy this recap. It's like reading The Silmarillion on purpose. If you want to watch a glorified apologia for the existence of more films after the first eight, here it is: nine minutes that--magically!--feel like 9 hours. Not sated in your weird fetishism? "Dumbledore Through the Ages" (7 mins.) collates new and archival talking heads with Rowling and actors Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, and Law to wax prosaic about how the Hogwarts headmaster is a "man of action" and charming and witty; how he's a genius and a philosopher and a "wise old fart." Ezra Miller chimes in to say we're charmed by him and his clear moral compass--an interesting vehicle for this soundbite, you'll agree. Rowling discussing her own lore is particularly embarrassing, I must say. Anyway, Rowling explains how Dumbledore's love for Grindelwald is part of his dark past, and I cry uncle. I got it, Jo. "Magical or Muggle" (5 mins.) is more B-roll horseshit where members of the cast, holding paddles for "magical" and "muggle," must answer if stupid-sounding foods are made up or just the way the British people name their dishes to try to give their gluten paste and meat pies a sense of flair. It goes on forever and none of these people are funny. Meanwhile, "The Magic of Hogwarts" (6 mins.) is about how exciting it was for these grown-ass adults to walk onto the Hogwarts set. Again, if you're a kid who grew up with this, you'll probably get that tingle that you don't really feel but will experience. Hearing how the production designer who worked with David Lean is now making Fantastic Beasts movies breaks my heart. Just fucking kill me now. I'm ready.
In "Even More Fantastic Beasts" (6 mins.), Law says there are many beasts in this universe with important parts to play in the movie. The actors go on about how beautiful the deer thing is ("It's incredibly mythical!"), and then the editors cut to footage of them acting with a wooden puppet on set. A puppeteer interviewed says the deer is "delicate and fragile, but inherently noble," and I wonder if he means Redmayne. Look, this thing is stupid but marginally less so than the other features because it showcases craftspeople making crafts. "Newt in the Wild" (5 mins.) is Redmayne standing in warehouses and stuff against a greenscreen intercut with Redmayne saying how much he wished Newt had a scene in these movies where he's in the wilderness. There's a meta-irony there I'm too tired to parse. You do it. "The German Ministry of Magic" (5 mins.) boasts of the globetrotting this picture does while we see further images of greenscreen soundstages in Britain's Leavesden Studio. Director David Yates and VFX supervisor Christian Manz go into fine detail about how these effects are different from the ones in the Potter films, and for me it's like when R2-D2 suddenly had rockets in his feet in the prequels. Fuck off, is what I'm saying. Neil Lamont, the production designer, touches on how the architecture and interiors of some of the places are inspired by real-life buildings, which isn't as revealing as he thinks and also nonsensical when we're talking about an entirely magical world. "Hey, make me a magic cathedral," someone says. "Sure, it'll be just like the Reichstag!" GENIUS! I dug the tiny glimpse at the "magic" typewriter props and would like one, please. The behind-the-scenes footage, by the way, is nicely lit. Law says it's all like "old-time filmmaking," and, haha, no. Beginning with the claim that Credence is a well-rounded character (no, he is not), "A Dumbledore Duel" (4 mins.) is a VFX breakdown of the fight in which Dumbledore tells Credence he's a Skywalker. Miller says the choreography of the fight tells the stories of the characters; this isn't fucking Rob Roy, you twats, this is you guys waving tiny sticks at each other while VFX artists make giant debris fields fly around chaotically. "The Candidates' Dinner" (5 mins.) breaks down another indecipherable action sequence while alleging that Jacob is a central character in this film, and, haha, no, again.
There's more. Oh my god, there's more. Please, God. Jesus Christ. "Erkstag Jailbreak" (5 mins.) offers that the scorpion set-piece is based on a quarry in Dorset. Ha! Most of it merely narrates the sequence: "Newt enters! It's tight in there! Danger! Huge spiral prison block! Theseus is in it!" Here, they clarify that the scorpions are manticores, which, okay, they're manticores! Yates calls the biggest one the "mother one," and describes the whole thing as "bizarrely funny!" "What I love about Eddie is he's so committed!" Sure. Me, too, David Yates. He goes on to insist that Eddie swivelling his hips for six hours was an incredible physical feat. "Battle in Bhutan" (6 mins.) breaks down the climax, providing a peek at the models used to lay out the sequence. Then it's revealed the film's Bhutan was based on pictures they found that allowed them to completely understand the architecture and culture of the Himalayan country. Doesn't sound right, but I'm not the expert. Bhutan has a "sense of magic and mysticism to it," and...paging Mr. Said, paging Mr. Edward Said. I know they don't mean anything when they say stupid crap like this, but that's why it's systemic, savvy? Very funny is how Mads talks about shooting it: "Energy shoots out and you know we can imagine how it all turns out." It's refreshing, honestly, to have a serious person not trying to gaslight you into thinking they believe any of this ridiculousness is worth serious consideration. He's the Harrison Ford of this endeavour. "Deleted Scenes" (7 mins.) consists of five clips, one of them a glimpse at the Hogwarts bridge and its owlery. I don't know why they'd cut that out, it would have fanatics passing out in the aisles. There's a deadly dull bit in Newt's House, a part where Credence kills someone following him, and a couple of short scenes at a party, the significance of which I've already forgotten. My torments end with "The Secrets of Cursed Child" (5 mins.), a trailer for the stage version of this fuckery that looks absolutely insufferable. Can I say, Rowling seems to be obsessed with secrets? Is the secret that someone is gay in this one as well? We meet the play's Dumbledore, Harry, and Hermione, and there's so much theatre-kid energy I want to make bad choices at the afterparty all over again. Ninety minutes of extras, man. It's cruel.
143 minutes; PG-13; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H, Dolby Vision/HDR10), BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), English DD 5.1, English DVS (U.S.) 5.1, English DVS (UK) 5.1, French DD 5.1, German Dolby Atmos, German DD 5.1, German DVS 5.1, Italian Dolby Atmos, Italian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, BD: English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), English DD 5.1, English DVS 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; UHD: English SDH, French, German, German SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish subtitles, BD: English, English SDH, French, French SDH, Spanish, Portuguese SDH subtitles; BD-100 + BD-50; Region-free; Warner