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Soundtrack review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (James Newton Howard – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (James Newton Howard – 2016)



“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a 2016 British drama fantasy action film directed by David
Yates and written by J. K. Rowling (in her screenwriting debut), based on Rowling's book of the same
name. It stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen
Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, and Jon Voight. There are growing dangers in the
wizarding world of 1926 New York. Something mysterious is leaving a path of destruction in the streets,
threatening to expose the wizarding community to the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction of No-Majs
(American English for Muggles) bent on eradicating them. And the powerful, dark wizard Gellert
Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, has slipped away… and is now nowhere to be found. The
story is part of the same Wizarding World as Harry Potter and the score was written by my dream
composer for a project like this, James Newton Howard. After hearing his work for movies like “Snow
White and The Huntsman” and “Maleficent”, I can’t wait to hear him write fantasy again.

I couldn’t wait to hear the fantastic “Hedwig’s theme” open this score and movie since John Williams’
theme is still one of the most recognizable of the past 20 years and the main motif of the wizzarding
world. James Newton Howard uses it for as long as it takes for the logo to appear on screen before
quickly taking over the magic cape of composer and running away with his own music. The “Main titles”
show a thunderous JNH reminiscent of his “The last airbender” days meet a light and optimistic JNH
from the “Peter Pan” days; the main titles are a wonderful blend of the two extremes of the fantasy
music spectrum and I am already far away from reality.
James Newton Howard is more often than not subtle and almost restrained in the way he expresses
musical emotions; his music rarely bursts and flies out of the boundaries the composer sets for it.
Fantasy is a special musical genre though and there are no edges to the world. From the first minutes I
realize that this is the kind of score I’d love to hear performed live. I can’t wait to see JNH in concert next
year and I’m sure he’ll have a suite from this score. It doesn’t take more than 10 minute for the music to
completely take me over and to give me that warm and fuzzy feeling in the stomach. The mix of child
choirs, smooth jazzy motifs and burst of emotional fervor that make up almost every cue from “Fantastic
beasts” is flawless. I keep taking every cue as if it was a diamond and looking at it from every angle,
listening to its every inflexion without being able to find anything wrong. For the past couple of years
I’ve enjoyed a lot of minimalistic, electronic, abrasive and percussion heavy scores but when an
orchestral fairy tale like this one comes along I realize that there’s simply nothing like it: the hide and
seek of the brass section, the tender and shy shrill of the flute or the strings are irreplaceable and magic
in themselves.
I am like a kid who’s actually entered the magic case of Newt Scamander and is not looking around in
awe of the magical creatures around; the opening seconds of “Inside the case” are matching the Disney
musical logo I grew up with. For me this should be mandatorily used to signal any kind of fairy tale land.
The opening motif is just perfect. Not that the rest of the cue is any different with its spectacular
optimism and gorgeous soaring motifs… Fantasy music at its unparalleled best right here and I just do
not want this score to end. Says here that this cue is 9 minute long but I’m sure time moves differently
in that world and it feels timeless. There’s no theme inside this piece of music but I didn’t feel the need
for one; it’s a cue about a magical territory filled with strange creatures and each little patch of grass
from that land gets its own small motif.

“The erumpent” is the first moment when JNH meets John Williams in a full cue; the way it’s
constructed with the quiet first half, almost filler like and the magnificent orchestral explosion of the
second half reminds me of how conflicting some of JW’s cues were for me. Strangely enough the long
suites work much better in this score than the shorter cues; I love how the composer develops them and
how he fills each separate canvas with beautiful and meaningful musical imagery. The movie had long,
spectacular scenes and the suites actually make me feel much better about them than I did when
watching the movie; in the cinema I felt a bit detaches and even fi the movie as spectacular I felt the
story was a bit weak but as I’m listening to the score, James Newton Howards fills in the blanks and
strengthens my emotional attachment to the movie.
I recognize the world of this composer even in the more low key cues like “Gnarlak negotiations” or “The
demiguise and the Occamy”; it’s his quiet and suspenseful mood one that contrasts with the fantastic
stride and fervor of the longer suites. I remember I noticed these pieces in the context of the movie as
well and they felt a bit frustrating. They bring the score to Earth and make sense because one of the
most important characters if the funny and almost always confused “no-maj” Jacob.
For me the main theme of this movie is the menacing one that’s first heard in all its glory in “The
Obscurus / Rooftop chase”; it kept popping up in the movie and it stuck in my mind with its spectacular
buildup. It’s a theme that has the feel of a dark cloud coming closer and starting to rain. It reminds me of
the Harry Potter darkness of the most recent movies and for me this is the theme I would like to hear
return in subsequent scores. This is my favorite kind of film music theme: rich, dark and emotional. It
comes back more subdued and romantic and stripped of almost everything but the trusted piano in
“Newt Says Goodbye to Tina / Jacob's Bakery”, the lovely happy ending of the movie. It’s nice how the
closing theme brings together in a nicely wrapped bunch the three most important motifs from this
score: the main theme, the jazzy real world motif and the flute variation.
Then there’s the climax of the movie, the scene where everything falls apart and comes together, the
interaction of an abused and tormented soul that hides an unstoppable demon inside, the good guys
who are trying to save the child from his dark side and the main villain that finally reveals himself.
“Relieve Him of His Wand / Newt Releases the Thunderbird / Jacob's Farewell” is one of the pinnacle
moments of an already unique and fantastic career for James Newton Howard; this 12.5 minutes long
suite has what I love the most about film music and music in general: unrestrained emotions, beautiful
melodies and spectacular orchestral explosions. This cue is a story in itself and will become a legend in
years to come. You don’t need to see the movie to appreciate it, you just need to have an open heart
and imagination. When people talk about the universal language of music they should mention a cue
like this because it transcends worlds, states of mind, distances between people and just brings
everything closer together. First time I listened to it in full I couldn’t close my mouth or open my eyes as
I let it fill me and I wondered if it’s the most beautiful film music cue I’ve ever heard; for sure it’s not as
it’s impossible to give one piece of music such a title but just having this thought is enough. From the
first note right up to the smooth jazzy end (the second most easily identifiable motif from the score, I
could call if the “No maj theme” or the “Return to the real world motif”) this track is a dream.

The deluxe edition of the score has 25 minutes of extra material and I can’t imagine why it’s not on the
regular edition… the first cue “A man and his beasts” could have very well served as the opening theme
itself; it starts with a soft children’s choir and then tip toes playfully to the sound of flute and other
warm instruments as it exposes to us the inner world of our main character without letting the outside
world interfere. From his shyness to the wonder of seeing New York for the first time it’s all there. I
would have put this track right after the main titles to introduce the main character and the jazzy sound
of the real world he traveled to.
I like the extra tracks because they provide snippets of themes from this universe; they are all short and
unfinished for me but they could all be developed nicely in the following scores .I am a big fan of
recording sessions and hearing everything a composer wrote for a movie so this deluxe edition as right
up my alley.
James Newton Howard has written a lot of magnificent scores; he’s one of the best composers to ever
bless us with his music and yet he manages to outdo himself time and time again. For me “Fantastic
beasts and where to find them” is one of his best scores ever and shows once again the
incommensurable musical range he has. I’m even more excited now about his concert even if it’s a year
away. Listen to this score as you will find very few as rich, complex and beautiful as it.

Cue rating: 95 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 82 / 98

Album excellence: 84%

Main Titles – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
There Are Witches Among Us / The Bank / The Niffler
Tina Takes Newt In / Macusa Headquarters
Pie or Strudel / Escaping Queenie and Tina’s Place
Credence Hands Out Leaflets
Inside the Case
The Erumpent
Tina and Newt Trial / Let’s Get the Good Stuff Out / You’re One of Us Now / Swooping Evil
A Close Friend
The Obscurus / Rooftop Chase
He’s Listening To You Tina
Relieve Him of His Wand / Newt Releases the Thunderbird / Jacob’s Farewell
Newt Says Goodbye to Tina / Jacob’s Bakery
End Titles – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
A Man and His Beasts
I’m Not Your Ma
Blind Pig
End Titles Pt.2 – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Kowalski Rag

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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