It’s fair to say that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore comes to 4K and Blu-ray this week with more baggage than most blockbusters, almost all of it unrelated to the actual filmmaking involved. Be it writer J.K. Rowling’s outspoken opinions on gender, Johnny Depp’s removal, or the ongoing Ezra Miller drama, plenty of viewers of all political stripes may have issues with the product. But there’s a final problem with Fantastic Beasts 3 that simply couldn’t have been anticipated and involves unlucky timing. The movie’s plot deals with a cult-like leader and his fanatical followers who try to rig an important election. And in so many ways, their relatively simple plan is far less engaging than the narrative currently unfolding on TV news channels.
Regardless of which side you take, there’s a better story being told in real life. And that’s despite our world’s relative lack of magical creatures and the means to locate them. That’s a shame for longtime Wizarding World director David Yates. He does some of the best directing in the series in this film. Utilizing creative camerawork, shooting scenes that literally begin at the darkness before the dawn and progressively lighten (a great use of 4K, as it happens), and giving the overall sheen of the movie an off-white with brown around the ages — like the pages of an ancient book — this movie feels extremely aesthetically considered, and less bound to real-world terms. Yates even adapts Stranger Things‘ “upside down” idea for a particularly prominent face-off.
Unlike a majority of big franchise movies, The Secrets of Dumbledore doesn’t open with explosive action. Instead, it’s a quiet conversation in a diner between ex-lovers Dumbeldore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald (
Colin Farrell Johnny Depp Mads Mikkelsen). Like America and Russia post-World War II, the former allies turned adversaries are now locked into a mutually assured destruction magical charm that forbids direct aggression. That leaves them only two options. Either persuade the other that his cause is less righteous, or wage a proxy war using surrogates. Nobody comes to these movies for verbal debates, so we get the latter course.
Prequels tend to go out of their way to show the unnecessary origins of items and themes we never asked about. (Leia’s holster, for example.) But Fantastic Beasts 3 actually does help clear up a nagging issue with the Harry Potter stories. Namely, Dumbledore’s irritating habit of just taking off for long periods of time without explanation while leaving Harry in serious danger. Here, we see it’s a habit learned against Grindelwald. Since the evil wizard has limited abilities to see the future, working against him requires nobody knowing what the rest of the group is doing at any given time, creating more confusion and potential futures. Clearly he maintained this habit once Voldemort came along.
Grindelwald may be a fascist in the making, but like many before him, he has quasi-legitimate means of getting there. First, gain the equivalent of a pardon for his existing crimes. Then, with that slate clean, enter the upcoming election for leadership of the Wizarding World, and win. The counter-plan to stop him involves multiple suitcases, but after that, the similarities with real-world elections vanish. And get less interesting, sadly.
There’s something of an over-correction at play here. Fantastic Beasts 2 faced many criticisms for being over-complicated, as Rowling seemed more interested in world-building than telling the story at hand. It also seemed overly optimistic at the possibilities of being part two of a five-part story. As such, the new movie gives Rowling an assist from regular Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, and essentially wraps up the storyline so it can end here if necessary. With enough wiggle-room, of course, for more if demanded. Focusing strictly on the leads and their quest, it does the job of streamlining the story. Especially when compared to the extremely convoluted featurettes that attempt to explain Dumbledore’s backstory and family history. Kloves couldn’t have known the January 6th committee would do an even better narrative with a much bigger story.
Grindelwald’s plan involves a deer-like creature called a Qilin, which everyone pronounces “chillun” or “chillin’.” Perhaps Rowling’s knowledge of slang is poor, but it makes everyone who says it sound silly in this context. We have to wonder if Kloves ever heard the word spoken aloud.
Eddie Redmayne continues to play ostensible protagonist Newt Scamander like the best unofficial Doctor that Doctor Who never had. Newt ropes in random companions on his bigger adventures without necessarily planning an endgame. But it’s the Grindelwald/Dumbledore show, and Jude Law is arguably more connected to the books than in some of the pervious films. At last we get a sense of some real ruthless calculation beneath Dumbledore’s amiable facade. And Mikkelsen, of all three Grindelwalds so far, feels like the first one who could have actually been a sympathetic figure. Like Dumbledore in reverse, Mikkelsen is able to make viewers think there’s some hidden warmth beneath Grindelwald’s all-steel, genocidal exterior. Or maybe it’s just a trick. Still, he seems more believably charismatic as a leader than Depp’s flat-out cartoon villain.
As for Miller? Knowing what we at least think we know now increases our belief that the aptly named Credence could easily do something rash and dangerous. He — the character appears male-identified, although Miller isn’t — certainly seems closer to Miller’s true nature than Barry Allen does.
All involved deserved a bigger finale, but the real world intruded in more ways than one. The pandemic occurred midway through production of the movie, which kept the cast and crew from most of the shooting locations. Because this franchise can seemingly just print money, Warner Bros. built all the locations on set, using digital life scans. This impressive feat shows across several making-of featurettes, which also reveal how using digital trees allowed for better action photography.
A handful of deleted scenes extend points we already know, but it’s fun to see the Hogwarts owlery. The disc’s main bit of franchise-pimping includes a behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, which seems like fun.
Whether or not you wish to spend money on this property moving forward is, of course, a personal decision. Aside from that, just know that it’s a great-looking 4K that deserved to go out with a bigger bang. The visuals would merit a full 5/5, but as a complete package, it falls far below that.
Recommended Reading: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | Two-Volume Hardcover Book Set
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