Not So Fantastic Beasts

The Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday. Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen any of the nominees.

It isn’t that I don’t like movies. I’m not a big movie-goer, but when we lived in Canada, I would usually have seen at least half of the Best Picture nominees over the course of the year. I never seemed to have as much free time for movies as I would have liked, but with a theatre across the street it could be a spur of the moment entertainment option.

I did see a movie this past weekend, though it for some reason didn’t make the Oscar list. The theatre in Kandern, about a half hour drive from Sulzburg, has an English-language movie one Saturday afternoon each month. Normally it is on a Saturday when I am working, but this month I was free.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald wouldn’t have been my first pick if I had a choice of movies. But Anglophones can’t be choosers in this instance, and how bad could it be?

I was never a big Harry Potter fan, feeling the books weren’t that well written and that gave the movies a poor base to work from. Fantastic Beasts was a school textbook of Harry’s. Now it is a movie series (this is the second installment) making J. K. Rowing even richer.

If you aren’t a fan of Rowling’s wizarding world, avoid this one. If you didn’t see the first movie in the series, you might as well skip this one too. I had great difficulty figuring out what was going on – and I am familiar with the concepts, but with no knowledge of the backstory I found myself adrift the whole time.

It has always seemed to me that Rowling is a sloppy writer. Her magical world is filled with inconsistencies. That might make for some great special effects, but only if you don’t stop to think.

For instance, why does anyone in a magical world need to use an elevator to get to an upper floor, or wash windows by hand? The magical vacuum cleaner was amusing, but would it really be necessary? Of course not. (Rowling also is unfair to readers with her plots, at least in the Potter novels, but we’ll save that critique for another day.) The special effects were fun, the acting was as good as you could expect given the material.

When I was first getting involved in photography, there were two basic choices when it came to colour film. There was Ektachrome, which emphasized the blues and greens in the frame, and Kodachrome, a brighter film that highlighted the yellows and reds. This is definitely an Ektachrome film, rather gloomy in all its aspects and missing any bright colours.

That brightness is missing from the plot also. I understand that the first Fantastic Beasts film was a comedy. If The Crimes of Grindelwald is supposed to be funny, then for the most part I missed it. Maybe I don’t have the right sense of humour.

Many people have taken exception to Rowling’s magical universe, right from the first Potter novel, boycotting the books and the movies. I understand their concerns about glamourizing magic, about making dubious spiritual practices somehow look acceptable. However, a reading of the books shows that a bigger criticism could be the lack of spirituality. The magic in Harry Potter’s world is all mechanical and in theory has its own internal logic. Casting a spell is like baking a cake: you just follow the recipe, no spirits involved. Creatures (and people) can be good or evil, but there is no sense of a spiritual struggles, no clear concepts of sin or redemption. Spirituality is assumed, but never discussed.

The Crimes of Grindelwald follows what I see as Rowing’s usual formula. It is a battle between good and evil, and we want the good guys to win. However, the good guys don’t seem to have a moral compass. Rules are for others, and the end justifies the means.

That is fine for a movie. It doesn’t work as well in the non-magical world we inhabit. We have social constraints we should obey, like them or not. Disobedience has consequences.

There are divine principles for living a good life. All of us accept or reject them. At times people seem blissfully ignorant of what they are. That might work well in a magical world where the good guys can do whatever they please, but real life doesn’t work that way.


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