Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - James Newton Howard
What You Will Hear: Standard JNH adventure scoring, with a smattering of jazz. No more than two quotations of John Williams material from Harry Potter.
Standout Tracks: Main Titles, Inside The Case, A Close Friend, Relieve Him of His Wand/Newt Releases the Thunderbird/Jacob’s Farewell, Newt Says Goodbye To Tina/Jacob’s Bakery, End Titles, A Man And His Beasts, Billywig, The Demiguise and the Lollipop, Kowalski Rag
Will You Be Humming Along? Three themes jumped out after a few listens. When they start swinging, you’ll be humming and tapping your feet along.
The album this makes me want to dust off: Pan - John Powell
Will I come back to it? At first, I thought I wouldn’t be returning. Then I checked out the Deluxe Edition. You should most definitely go with the Deluxe Edition. The opening of Fantastic Beasts is exciting and appropriately magical. But, the middle of the first disc is rather bland. The score quickly earned a kinship with Nicholas Hooper’s less than stellar entries into the Harry Potter films. Eventually, things were brought to a satisfying conclusion with the Thunderbird track, and the end credits. But, in the end, I didn’t think my enthusiasm would recover after an (overall) lackluster listening experience.
Then I heard “A Man and His Beasts” on the second disc and my interested was immediately reignited. I went back to the beginning and explored everything a little more. I’m glad I did. I found myself noticing themes that I’d completely missed the first time through. The instrumentation, which originally sounded a little thin at times, was now completely satisfying throughout. I’m totally willing to admit that I’m now applying the pleasure of “A Man and His Beasts” to the rest of the score. But, at least I’m honest. It took two weeks of listening, but I’ve pulled a 180 and am now a fan of Fantastic Beasts.
And so, after my second (third… fourth…) listen, what did I enjoy so much? The opening track introduces an exciting mixed meter motif that rarely returns. But, it was enjoyable enough that I’ll put that track on repeat and be satisfied. From this opening, we are treated to choir, celeste, and other Potter-ish instrumentations. The magical influences are evident. So is the humor and quirkiness. Be it tuba or clarinet, the lighter moments are fun departures from the multiple chase/adventure scenes. I’ve come to be very appreciative of James Newton Howard’s (apparent) attempt to keep his writing in line with the existing Potter movies.
As stated above, I didn’t immediately recognize the themes. But, once I did, they grew on me immediately. (What I assume is) Newt’s theme (see: A Man and His Beasts) is wonderful in every variation. It is one of the most malleable melodies in recent memory, and it soars in every variation. You’ll hear it fill you with wonder, swing across a walking bass line, and lead you through magical action sequences. There is also a more standard action theme that is a lot of fun, especially when the French horns soar through the B section. (see: End Titles). The final theme seems to be centered around the Thunderbird (and maybe some romance). While “Newt Releases the Thunderbird” doesn’t exactly reach Hand of Fate (Signs) heights, it is certainly an enjoyable ride.
I repeat: if you’re going to listen, do yourself a favor and go with the Deluxe Edition. Let the second disc inform your ears of what to expect on the first… backwards I know. But, a totally enjoyable experience when you have the full picture!