Quick Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Music conducted by Pete Anthony
Music orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, John Ashton Thomas, Philip Klein, Peter Boyer, David Butterworth, Jim Honeyman
Music recorded by Shawn Murphy, Peter Cobbin
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London and AIR Lyndhurst, London
Album running time: 72 minutes (+25 minutes Deluxe Edition)
Available on WaterTower Records

Branching off the world of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World continues with the adventures of Newt Scamander.  Both a spin-off and prequel, we meet Newt entering New York City in 1926.  He of course has a briefcase of fantastic beasts, some of which escape and threaten to expose the American witches/wizards to "muggles", known as "nomaj" in the USA.

For the score, director David Yates enlisted James Newton Howard, not a stranger to some large orchestral and magic-filled films.  As of this writing, they are planning to make this a 5 film series with hopefully Howard continuing to score each one.  This new franchise gave Howard plenty of thematic opportunities - an overarching Wizarding World theme, a lively theme for Newt with heroic variations, theme for Newt and Tina's friendship, Fantastic Beasts fanfare, a jazz-inspired theme for nomaj Kowalski, and of course several motifs for the various creatures.   

As the Warner Bros logo appears in the Main Titles, John Williams' Hedwig's Theme gets a brief nod.  As the film's title appears we hear the first appearance of his Fantastic Beasts fanfare which goes from magical to menacing.  Newt's Theme appears as a lively and optimistic string ostinato and the fantastic sweeping second part which ends the cue.  

There Are Witches Among Us/The Bank/The Niffler begins with some choir which launches into the Wizarding World Theme, a mysterious swirling theme which appears several times throughout the score (and most likely in the following films).  Hijinks ensue when the creature the Niffler runs amok in a bank.  The Niffler is given a comic motif as it intermingles with the first phrases of Kowalski's Theme.  The second part of Hedwig's Theme appears (which hardly has shown up in post-John Williams 'Potter' scores).

Tina Takes Newt In/MACUSA Headquarters gives more grand statements of the Wizarding World Theme that match nicely with the entrance of MACUSA's building.  A more lilting and light version of the theme begins Pie Or Strudel/Escaping Queenie and Tina's Place.  The orchestration keeps things in the magical realm - bell trees, glockenspiel, woodwinds and celeste.  We briefly hear Newt's Heroic Theme as well as jazzy comic beats for Kowalski.

Credence Hands Out Leaflets gives us the dark side of the magical world with long-held strings and an electronic rhythm to it.  One long sequence is represented in the track Inside the Case.  We experience the interior of Newt's suitcase and the various creatures that appear inside.  The first magical discovery is the Thunderbird motif, which gives way to both parts of Newt's Theme.  As they explore more lands inside the case, different creature motifs begin to emerge leading to another large reprise of the Thunderbird motif.  The music turns darker with the introduction of the Obscurus and ends on a tender moment for clarinet and piano.  

The Erumpent has some unique underscoring and unique orchestration.  The music turns comical as it becomes a charming waltz.  It later transforms into an action cue complete with snarling brass.  In The Cells returns to the darker serious tone heard earlier.  It's a bit hard to pick out the theme for the dark wizard Grindelwald, no doubt it will be expanded on in future films.  There is some great writing in Tina and Newt Trial/Let's Get the Good Stuff Out/You're One Of Us Now/Swooping Evil.  (Winner for longest track title on an original soundtrack??)  The dark atmosphere turns to an action cue with driving rhythms and racing strings and a great moment with Newt's Heroic Theme.

Gnarlak Negotiations brings us to the jazz world again, as we see a wizard and goblin speakeasy with our charachters trying to get help in finding the Demiguise creature.  A rousing but brief reprise of Newt's Heroic Theme ends the cue.  The Demiguise's musical motif features some exotic instrumentation in The Demiguise and the Occamy.  The Occamy music is a bit more threatening in tone, but the music is full of energy as Newt's Heroic Theme is reprised.  A Close Friend introduces the Friendship Theme, a touching piece for strings, harp and chorus.  

The Obscurus/Rooftop Chase gains intensity as the orchestra crescendos.  The strings and brass clearly have plenty of work in this action cue.  While it keeps the drama of the chase, it never gets too musically busy.  He's Listening to You Tina brings the Obscurus theme to an emotional scene with some serious string underscore. 

Relieve Him of His Wand/Newt Releases the Thunderbird/Jacob's Farewell is the longest track on the album, consisting of a good chunk of the finale.  As the villain's story is carefully wrapped up for now, the bleak tone is brought into the light with the Thunderbird motif mixing with Newt's Theme in another majestic moment.  Howard brings back the Friendship Theme, recalling some of his work for Maleficent.  This emotional half of the track is spectacular, and the last part of erasing Kowalski's memory is quite touching.  Kowalski's Theme returns in full jazz piano and drumset form - a fresh start.  Newt Says Goodbye to Tina/Jacob's Bakery brings back the Friendship Theme (perhaps to turn into a love theme in the future?).  One last reprise of the great Kowalski's Theme also offers a hint at the sweet theme for Kowalski and Tina's sister as the film ends.  End Titles begin with a strong start and segues into the reprises of Newt's Heroic Theme and his rousing second theme before the track fades away.

The bonus tracks are welcome additions to the score (and those willing can add them to the correct chronological order in the album).  A Man and His Beasts is a suite of the Wizarding World Suite - the theme that really doesn't appear much in the score itself but thankfully gets plenty of variations including one for jazz clarinet, muted trumpets and sliding trombones.  Soup and Leaflets is more of the darker material for Graves and Credence.  Billywig and The Demiguise and the Lollipop are shorter cues featuring some tense magical moments and the Fantastic Beasts fanfare.  I'm Not Your Ma features more of the Credence and Obscurus underscore that works great in the film but not entirely interesting on album.  Blind Pig is the source song (music by Mario Grigorov, lyrics by JK Rowling, sung by Emmi) for the speakeasy of the same name.  It's a nice moment in the film to include as a bonus track.  Newt Talks to Credence is a bit of mysterious underscoring.  End Titles Pt. 2 gives one of the lilting magical renditions of the Wizarding World Theme before leading to the larger choir rendition.  Kowalski Rag is a suite dedicated to all varieties of arrangements of Kowalski's themes ending with the dirty jazz and sweet Kowalski/Queenie love theme.  

James Newton Howard should get a lot of credit for this new musical world he's started.  If you haven't noticed, the motifs and themes are seemingly endless for just one film.  Not being a part of Harry Potter - but still connected - gave Howard a musical sense and inspiration that worked to his benefit.  His establishment of these ideas is exciting to see and of course to see in the subsequent films.  Standing up to past Harry Potter scores, this score and themes match nicely in tone and orchestration.  Howard uses the large symphony orchestra and choir to really showcase all varieties of style and instrumentation.  A totally interesting score that is worth many repeat listens.              

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