Film: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”; Director: David Yates; Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Collin Farrell, Johnny Depp; Rating: **

Really, Eddie Redmayne is the ultimate illusionist. And when I say that I don’t only mean his role in his new film, a Harry Potter preamble which tends to scramble and ramble beyond the call of duty. Even if Redmayne had not played a magician in “Fantastic Beats and Where To Find Them”, he would still qualify as a magician.

I don’t think Redmayne would be anywhere near the Oscar for his new film. Frankly, I was excited about “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” only to see Redmayne transform into another character from an era when people were more innocent and uncorrupted and could relate to their inner demons without the fear of falling and failing. Luxuries denied to heroes (and by extension films about heroes) in these troubled times.

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”, Redmayne doesn’t disappoint. He once again brings to the screen that bumbling brilliance which sets him apart from the other prominent screen actors of our times. As Newt Scamander, Redmayne is every bit the nerdy uncertain dithering child-man with a penchant for unexpected heroism.

If as Stephen Hawking he grappled with his growing physical disability, and if Lily Elbe (the first man to have undergone a sex-change operation in ‘The Danish Girl’) seemed so palpable in her gender confusion, Newt is the reluctant magician in New York in 1926 who unwittingly unleashes a series of catastrophic creatures over New York.

This could have been the fantasy where the beasts-fantastic or otherwise would bring a wealth of fables into their range of activity. Instead director David Yates(who has directed four “Harry Potter” films) squanders the visual opulence in majestic masquerades of “magical” creatures cavorting in an abundance of arcadian inconsequentiality.

Neither surreal enough to qualify as epic, nor offhand enough to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Potter-ism, “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” is finally thwarted defeated and destroyed by its over-weening ambitions. That includes the over-blown opitical illusions in 3D which seem to announce their uniqueness even before we get a chance to acknowledge their true function and merit in the scheme of things.

Initially Newt’s journey to New York and his genuine fascination about the sights and sounds is interesting, as is the camaraderie that’s woven into the overpowering fantasy between Newt and his new friend and ally Jacob (Dan Fogler) whose curiosity bewilderment joy and shock at the Newt’s magical world should have been ours.

Alas, we are hardly one with Jacob. There is an exasperating sameness to the proceedings even when the director makes it a point to remind us that this is a world which is imagined to exist years before Harry Potter.

It’s all in a suitcase, really. The magic and the illusions. And that’s where they should have remained.

None of this goes beyond the level of captivating visuals. The heart is clearly missing, although Redmayne gives it his best shot. Actors like Colin Farell and Johnny Depp pitch in with a strength that falls short of the glow .

By Subhash K. Jha

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