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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Album Cover Art
Regular Edition
Deluxe Edition
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed and Co-Produced by:

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Pete Anthony

Co-Orchestrated by:
Jeff Atmajian
Jon Kull
Peter Boyer
Philip Klein
John Ashton Thomas
David Butterworth
Jim Honeyman

Co-Produced by:
Jim Weidman
Sven Faulconer
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WaterTower Music/Sony Classical
(November 18th, 2016)
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Both initial albums are regular U.S. releases, with vinyl options available.
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Decorative Nonsense
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you are easily enchanted by James Newton Howard's mastery of the fantasy genre in scores like Lady in the Water and Maleficent, this entry containing much of the same outstanding quality and accessibility.

Avoid it... if you become overwhelmed by film scores with immense quantities of themes that don't always make sense in how they are applied, the weakness here coming from questionable decisions made during spotting sessions.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 1/28/17
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: (James Newton Howard) While magical beast expert Newt Scamander has only been mentioned in passing as part of the lore in J.K. Rowling's famed "Harry Potter" concept, he has become the main character in a spin-off film franchise written by Rowling herself. The initial story of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in 2016 to the delight of Potter enthusiasts, and the film's solid fiscal success has ensured that Rowling's intent to make four additional entries in this franchise is realized. The setting of this story starts about 70 years prior to when the Potter stories occur, following three concurrent ideas as the author fleshes out the history of the magical world. First come the efforts of Newt as he travels the world to collect magical creatures for their care, study, and preservation. (There is certainly a political agenda towards conservation here). Then there's the ongoing friction between the Americans' Ministry of Magic and the "No-Maj" muggles of New York, the common folk, that is exacerbated by the presence of the third plot element: Rowling's overarching battle between the forces of good and dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who is destined for a showdown in future years with Albus Dumbledore. That Newt and his beasts play an important role in soothing and foiling the latter two plotlines is a given, and he does so with the unapproved assistance of a pair of American witch sisters and a muggle who serves as endearing comic relief. Director David Yates, a veteran of the Harry Potter film franchise, hit the jackpot when he hired composer James Newton Howard to write the music for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; if any composer other than John Williams was to helm the start of this particular franchise, Howard was the ideal. The veteran composer has established a uniquely superior fantasy sound in a series of excellent scores of the prior ten years, including Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, and Maleficent, and he maintains a number of solid four-star efforts in the genre as well. Fortunately for fans of film music continuity, Howard has adopted several stylistic and thematic elements from Williams' original Potter scores, extending the same general tone without sacrificing his own typical methods of mastery in such assignments.

The score for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them not only solicits a heavy sigh of relief, but it portends a promising future for the franchise's music if Howard, in his late 60's at the time of this first score's debut and sans ghostwriters, continues to generate music for this new franchise as it inevitably shifts back to Europe. The instrumental palette for Howard is familiar. Recorded in London, the robust orchestra is layered with adult and boys' choirs, a selection of specialty instruments for both the jazz and suspense elements, and tastefully incorporated electronics typical to Howard's usual norms. The electronics aren't clearly evident in this work, as expected, and they serve primarily to bolster an eerie atmosphere or bass region muscularity during action sequences. The notable specialty performers include your standard 1920's jazz ensemble (double bass, drums, clarinet, trumpet, etc.) for the several cues of local flavor and, perhaps more interestingly, the vaguely rural-sounding combination of viola da gamba and fiddle from the Hunger Games scores for the witch-hunters and other evil-doers in this story. Add to that a series of intriguing, seemingly Eastern woodwind accents now and then ("The Demiguise and the Occamy" in particular) for various creatures, as well as the expected celeste and triangle for common conceptions of magic, and you have a nicely rounded collection of tones in the work. Howard's propensity for forceful, percussive flair in his action rhythms will also please his collectors in a few cues. The sound of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a constant pleasure, from a subtle but chilling touch like the wood block rhythm in "In the Cells" imitating the approaching footsteps of an executioner on a hard floor to the numerous string runs in various action cues that will remind listeners of Williams' prowess in the concept. The Williams connections are sometimes a little more overt, including three outright applications of "Hedwig's Theme" (two of the primary phrase and one of the Hogwarts variant) and a cameo of the spider motif from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets two minutes into "The Demiguise and the Occamy." The first Hedwig theme reference opens the film expectedly, though the other two are less obvious in their placement; the Hogwarts variant plays when the muggle Kowalski first learns of magic ("The Bank/The Niffler") and the other Hedwig reference, not on album, plays as Newt prepares a potion to attract the Erumpent in the zoo.

It's difficult to imagine that any listener could take issue with the expansive scope and instrumental tone with which Howard graces Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It's a gorgeously rendered score at its best, and an accessibly creepy one at its least notable portions. Where debate justifiably exists in relation to this work is in Howard's choice of thematic attributions and where he applies them. One of the beauties of Williams' scores for the first two Harry Potter films was his ability to consolidate his themes into a small number of highly memorable, easily malleable identities. Howard instead chose to conjure upwards of ten themes for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and supply them in limited form and questionable placements throughout the film. This spotting decision is truly the only weakness of the work as a whole, and it could be a significant one for some listeners. You encounter a wealth of identities in the score, but none clearly reveals itself as the primary voice of the franchise. All of the logical choices to serve in that role are underutilized in important places in the story, and you can't look towards the end credits for any clues given that it is pieced together with at least five separate recordings made in chunks explicitly for those credits or pulled from the rest of the score and edited together in truly haphazard fashion. In sum, there are two themes for Newt, an overarching theme for magic that seems to supplant the Hogwarts theme for this new setting, a theme for America, one for Newt's case of beasts, a friendship theme that doubles for romance, the nebulous motif for the Obscuris (villain) concept and an equally obtuse, largely atmospheric sway for the witch-hunters that cause it, the obvious jazz for the muggle Kowalski, and, most intriguingly, a conspiracy theme that could carry over to other Grindelwald involvement in the sequels. And then there are the Williams themes. All together, that's a hell of a lot of themes, and although Howard conveys almost all of them in brilliant glory at some point or two in the work, he has difficulty pulling them together into a cohesive musical narrative that dishes out the right melodies for the appropriate scenes. Again, this score's only ills came from the spotting sessions, and some listeners simply won't care about it. One might expect that if Howard continues with this franchise, the purpose of various themes will be better illuminated in subsequent films as a number of characters and settings from this first film cycle out.

Technically, the primary motif in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is Howard's theme for magic itself. It's the score's "cool fantasy theme," cooing with choir and utilizing minor key progressions that fit nicely with Williams' Hogwarts theme. Howard, unlike Williams, forgets to resolve the theme's last note, interestingly, choosing the John Barry "it's so good, I'll repeat the exact same phrase again" mode when the second statement of the phrase really needs its final note to resolve down to key in the way Williams did with Hedwig's theme. It's an amazingly adaptable theme, however, as Howard adds notes and changes its demeanor completely so it can play in a jazzy application. In suite form, it is explored extensively in both its fantasy and jazz personalities in "A Man and His Beasts," the last two minutes of jazz variant featured in the end credits of the film. Earlier in those credits is the cue "End Titles, Pt. 2," which states a dancing, exuberant version of theme before launching into the fuller fantasy mode with more static progressions and choir. The immensely frustrating aspect of this truly remarkable theme is how Howard abandons it nearly completely after its domination of early scenes. Its introduction on screen comes in the tantalizingly effective "There Are Witches Among Us," the witch-hunters' speech to muggles scored with a frighteningly appropriate disparity between extremely high tonal elements like choir, celeste, and flute while an immense bass region drone supplies fantastic harmonic resonance below. In this battle between witches and muggles, Howard suggests there are no mid-range instruments. That passage segues directly into the first outright statement of the magic theme (as Newt is called out), continuing the discord between high and low instruments. The magic theme is exposed in full in its exuberant, prancing, Maleficent-like variation at the outset of "Tina Takes Newt In" before the awe-inspiring location of the headquarters is afforded the film's most monumental fantasy expression of the idea. Some listeners might be turned off by the immediate shift by Howard to jazz in this theme, but the only true oddity is why Howard didn't stick with the fully jazzy version of that same magic theme. The motif opens "Pie or Strudel" during a street-walking scene and then disappears until the end credits. Seeing the extent to which Howard adapted the theme into three or four distinct emotional environments in just the opening scenes, it's a huge mystery as to why this main identity never returns. Let's hope for continued development in the sequels.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.14 Stars
***** 484 5 Stars
**** 267 4 Stars
*** 112 3 Stars
** 80 2 Stars
* 24 1 Stars
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Read All Start New Thread Search Comments
'A Close Friend' a rip-off of 'Ice Dance'?
Brent Simon - February 13, 2019, at 6:37 p.m.
1 comment  (740 views)
Where the hell is MACUSA when you need them?
Ken Kirchner - January 28, 2017, at 8:31 p.m.
1 comment  (1322 views)

Track Listings Icon
Regular Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 72:43
• 1. Main Titles - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2:55)
• 2. There Are Witches Among Us/The Bank/The Niffler (6:54)
• 3. Tina Takes Newt In/MACUSA Headquarters (1:57)
• 4. Pie or Strudel/Escaping Queenie and Tina's Place (3:06)
• 5. Credence Hands Out Leaflets (2:04)
• 6. Inside the Case (9:09)
• 7. The Erumpent (3:29)
• 8. In the Cells (2:11)
• 9. Tina and Newt Trial/Let's Get the Good Stuff Out/You're One of Us Now/Swooping Evil (8:00)
• 10. Gnarlak Negotiations (2:58)
• 11. The Demiguise and the Occamy (4:07)
• 12. A Close Friend (1:52)
• 13. The Obscurus/Rooftop Chase (3:49)
• 14. He's Listening to You Tina (2:06)
• 15. Relieve Him of His Wand/Newt Releases the Thunderbird/Jacob's Farewell (12:34)
• 16. Newt Says Goodbye to Tina/Jacob's Bakery (3:27)
• 17. End Titles - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2:22)
Deluxe Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 98:22

Notes Icon
The insert includes a list of performers and a pictorial from the recording sessions but no extra information about the score or film.
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or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are Copyright © 2016, WaterTower Music/Sony Classical and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/28/17 (and not updated significantly since).
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