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SYNOPSIS: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. An evil force is stalking the city, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the No-Majs (American for Muggles).

Review by Louise Keller:
Style overtakes substance in J.K. Rowling's new era of Wizarding Worlds, when an overload of special effects and confused storytelling hinders the film from soaring like the winged beasts of the title. Rowling has written the screenplay in this first of five planned films in the new franchise that describes a world long before Harry Potter. (The title gets its origin from one of Harry's textbooks at Hogwarts.) Unlike the Potter franchise with its meticulously described reality, everything feels stage-managed - from the storyline to the characters themselves. Some of the beasts are wonderful creations, but there are too many and our encounters with each of them too brief.

Of course, there are some good things too, like the wonderful 1920s production design and terrific performances - from Katherine Waterston as former Auror, Porpentina Goldstein and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj and aspiring baker through whose incredulous eyes we enter the reality. I also like Allison Sudol, whose sweet sensual persona as Porpentina's mind-reading sister Queenie makes for a lovely contrast.

Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is irritatingly mannered in the central role of Magizoologist Newt Scamander; he arrives in New York City to investigate the magical creatures for the book he is writing. It is unfortunate, as this takes us somewhat out of the film. Also successful are the film's observations on prejudice and tolerance. My favourite magical creature is Niffler, a mischievous duck-billed marsupial who loves glitter. The bank and jewelry store sequences when Niffler follows his shiny desires are especially amusing.

Watch for Johnny Depp in a small cameo as the slippery dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, Jon Voight as a newspaper mogul and Colin Farrell as the director of Magical Security. Ezra Miller is a dark presence as the troubled Credence.

James Newton Howard's score is surprisingly dull for the most part, which does nothing to enhance the action. David Yates, who beautifully directed the last four of the Harry Potter series is at the helm, but multiple plot strands get in the way of the central premise. I can't help but wonder: should the world of Harry Potter have been left to rest?

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(UK/US, 2016)

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, Samantha Morton, Katherine Waterston, Gemma Chan, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Fogler

PRODUCER: David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J. K. Rowling, Lionel Wigram

DIRECTOR: David Yates

SCRIPT: J. K. Rowling

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot

EDITOR: Mark Day

MUSIC: James Newton Howard

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Craig, James Hambridge

RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 17, 2016

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