Secrets of Dumbledore: Predictions Fulfilled and Promise for the Future

Last month, I posted my thoughts, predictions, and bizarre guesses about Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore based on the series of character posters that had just been released. At long last, the film has had its American release, and I am happy to offer my thoughts on the this, the third installment in the Fantastic Beasts collection. Be warned, in the interest of being un-influenced, I have not read the reviews or comments that have been posted here already, and there will be spoilers galore after the jump as we take a look at the film’s positive and negative aspects, the ways in which my poster insights were incredibly accurate (as well as some that were completely off base), and some predictions for the story to come based on what we’ve seen this time around. This review may be as wild, over-stuffed, and blatantly dangerous as Newt’s fabulous case, so proceed with caution to our latest adventure in the Wizarding World.

Positives

While we will take a look at some problems and issues with the film in a moment, overall, this offering in the series is enjoyable, far more than The Crimes of Grindelwald. The plot moves at the usual blockbuster clip (which is to say, faster than the most elusive of Newt’s menagerie), but it moves logically, and any confusion that arises is part of the elaborate shell game our heroes are playing. As we suspected from the previews with all those duplicate cases, confusion, subterfuge, and misdirection are all as central to Dumbledore’s plan as they are to the performance of a Muggle magician. Instead of confusing the viewer, though, the twists and turns make for an exciting tale that will have viewers guessing. While some of the twists were not terribly subtle (I knew all along who would have the “real” case in the shell game endgame, but some people might be surprised), they are reminiscent of the old days when we guessed what might be coming up in the next installment of the Hogwarts adventures and awaited midnight book releases.

The special effects are fantastic of course (although we will look at some of their excesses in a moment), but the film’s real successes are ones of the heart. The movie does a beautiful job with relationships. In some ways, this might be surprising, considering Newt and Tina are apart for nearly the entire narrative, but her absence, which, much to my disappointment, was due to a pretty pedestrian reason and not any of the kooky theories I proposed, allows the focus to remain on other relationships, including the obvious one of Jacob and Queenie. From the first moments each of them appears on screen, their hurt and longing for each other is palpable; no one with a heart, even a less full one than Jacob’s, could fail to be moved by his reaction to his shop’s wedding cake with its overturned groom. That moment, which becomes one piece of our ring composition that brings us full circle at the end, sets the tone nicely for this relationship that, unlike that of Newt and Tina, is not a foregone conclusion.

Yet, there are other relationships that also draw in the viewer. Of course, the painful past of Dumbledore and Grindelwald is a centerpiece of the story, but the title of this film should tell us that the relationships among the various members of the Dumbledore family are the ones that will really capture our attention. Each of these relationships is difficult, but not hopeless, as we see a father able to make a connection with his son before it is too late and brothers somehow working together despite their bitterness and differences. The dynamic between Albus and Aberforth is beautifully mirrored in Theseus and Newt’s relationship, and we have hope that the Scamander brothers, whatever their differences, will have a solid future. While Albus Dumbledore is, at the end of the film, standing alone in the street, it is not a pitiful loneliness. Though he stands outside a circle of family, it is not because he unwanted. Rather, he stands on a snowy New York street as he will stand on a leaf-strewn Surrey street decades later, as the outsider who is nonetheless deeply connected to others by his deep love of all humans and his belief in the power of love, the outsider who will plot, plan, and even deceive for the true Greater Good, not the false greater good of Grindelwald.

Even the great tragedy of the Dumbledore family, the death of Arianna, which Dumbledore recounts to Newt in a beautiful scene, finds some measure of redemption, as Albus and Aberforth, together, protect their only remaining relative, an Obscurus like Arianna, from Grindelwald, reflecting the events that led to their sister’s death, but with a very different outcome that reflects their hard-earned maturity and understanding of one another.

Other relationships, even those with little screen time, are also charming. Lally Hicks, the delightful American, is a wonderful character we hope to see again, primarily because of her interactions with the other characters that help create the illusion of a real Wizarding World with real people who interact with one another just as they do in our world, whether they are scholars who seldom meet in person (but often here!), or teachers who enjoy catching up with former students. Bunty, the indispensable assistant, despite an affection for Newt that is obvious to everyone except him, performs her duties admirably and supports his choice of Tina as she understands his pain at her absence. Most charming, though, are the relationships between Newt and his creatures. His appreciation and affection for them is so profound, sometimes sadly so, that viewers may sometimes have to remind themselves that all of these creatures are merely CGI creations, making Eddie Redmayne’s performance all the more impressive, as he interacts so beautifully with these illusions,, convincing us of their reality.

The acting, overall, is quite engaging, with each member of the ensemble effectively drawing viewers into the story. In addition, the story itself is layered with some nice symbolic and mythic power. Along with the lovely ring composition that holds together the narrative, there are wonderful uses of visual and narrative deeper meaning and some moments of real emotional power. Three times in the film, a scene begins out of focus and then clarifies. The first time it happened, I thought something was wrong with the film, but then the pattern emerged, revealing the intent. Threes are used in several instances throughout the film, as are twins or doppelgangers, deft touches that show more symbolic intent and narrative care than one might have expected. A nice effect is also achieved by the use of rain, snow, and other moisture throughout the film particularly in Newt’s first appearance on a jungle river in a rainstorm.

For a movie that relies on the smoke and bangs of special effects wizardry, Secrets of Dumbledore has a surprisingly large amount of heart, and some profound statements. In the trailer, we heard Dumbledore tell us that, if we listen, “the past whispers to us,” a beautiful summation of the way in which the past affects the present, not just in this story, but in the Hogwarts adventures as well, as we who know the “future” of this world can appreciate moments that presage the story of Harry Potter, still decades away.  He also uses, though not directly, his standard warning about choosing right over easy, and makes a nice change to a somewhat cliched statement by explaining the appeal of Grindelwald: “Dangerous times favor dangerous men.” By using “favor” instead of “call for,” he shows that the world doesn’t necessarily need dangerous men, but times of crisis allow such men to succeed when they might not have otherwise. The big “gut punch to the feelings,” though, comes in the form of a single word that reminds us of the power of love, no matter how damaged people may be: “Always.”

Problems

Of course, nothing is perfect, least of all a Hollywood film, so there are some issues with Secrets of Dumbledore. Although it certainly makes more sense than the last installment, there are still some plot holes. A couple of these are leftovers from the last film. While we’re all delighted (and probably not surprised) to see Queenie return to the good side, the fact that she ever signed up with Grindelwald has never really made sense. As a leglimens, her grasp of his true motives makes her defection seem odd unless it was an undercover mission, which it apparently was not. Another female character plot hole from Crimes is Nagini, who is likely to turn up again (in human or serpent form), but who has apparently just vanished, along with some other story pieces from the last film. I was surprised when Lally, in explaining to Jacob her knowledge of his friendship with Newt, mentions that they met a little over a year ago. More time than that appears to have elapsed.

One of the other issues is with the Fantastic Beasts themselves. While we certainly do see some creatures, they don’t seem to get quite enough screen time for a film with “fantastic beasts” in the title. Granted, the major plot thread revolves around the Qilin and its power to determine who is worthy to be chosen to lead the Wizarding World. Of course, Teddy the Niffler and Picket the Bowtruckle get some heroic moments, but I am always so charmed by seeing Newt inside the case, working with his creatures, that I would have liked much more of that, and much less with the thing that the movie people are calling a manticore, despite its lack of resemblance to such a creature in myth or in the textbook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While the escape from this awful monstrosity has its moments, adding peril, a little macabre comedy, and some survival dance moves reminiscent of the popular “crab rave” video, it’s really just a display of CGI virtuosity and a crude, juvenile sensibility. It’s yucky, over-done, and goes on too long for a sequence whose central monster is out of synch with the source material.

Such sequences remind us that one thing block-buster-makers don’t understand is subtlety, and there are a number of spots in the film when that is an issue. While it’s nice to catch the subtle images of the Qilin in the set-pieces, using close-ups of those images defeats their subtle effect. Perhaps some film-goers might not like probing into details and unpacking deeper meaning, but some of us find that process part of the enjoyment and would like fewer gross-out moments or obvious reveals reminiscent of two different Whomping Willow-takes-out-birds moments.

Posters

Speaking of probing into the depths, one of my favorite things about the Wizarding World has been the excellent attention given to details, even ones that may not seem important. Such was certainly the case with the poster series released last month. It is obvious now that I was not on target with some of my guesses based on the posters. Some of the characters, like henchman Helmut and candidate Liu, don’t really do much in the film, so any speculation I had about them was unrealized, of course, but I was surprised and pleased to see how a few of my predictions were fulfilled.

Backgrounds—The backgrounds behind the characters were indeed important to their roles in the film. Newt, with his wilderness background, the only character with a background like that, first appears in the jungle, and his work there is central to the plot. Dumbledore’s Hogwarts tower backdrop not only predicts the fact that several scenes are set at Hogwarts (including a great shot of the Quidditch pitch) and Hogsmeade, but also an interesting moment when Dumbledore looks over a balcony edge after Grindelwald has made a dramatic exit in that direction. His expression, while enigmatic, might indicate that our wise professor knows of his own future and the role of a tower in his death. Other backgrounds, including the German ministry of Magic and the magical kingdom of Bhutan, are important settings in the film and perfectly matched with the characters who appear in front of them.

Neckwear?—In my breakdown of the posters, I noted the importance of various neckties worn by the male characters, and while I ws hoping for more about the stars on Grindelwald’s tie, I was happily surprised by the role neckwear plays in the film. When Lally Hicks helps Jacob get ready to join her in the anti-Grindelwald confab, her charm gets him dressed to travel, and, with a flick of her wand,  his tie is neatly put in place. When Grindelwald surfs the crowd of his supporters, literally riding the swell of his rising and dangerous popularity, he appears to receive his pardon with his bow tie undone and hanging askew. Most importantly, when Newt is handing out the tools Dumbledore has assigned to each of the members of his squad, Theseus is given a tie that, in addition to being Gryffindor colors, sports the German eagle and serves a badge that allows him to be accepted at a state function. However, the tie has a much more important role to play, literally saving Newt and Theseus from an untimely death, thanks to the help of Picket and Teddy, since, like the Niffler’s pocket, the tie is much more than meets the eye.

Light- My favorite fulfilled prediction regards the placement and type of light sources with the characters in their posters. This one, at least, I solidly predicted, with the more noble characters mirrored by the fact that they appear with natural light, Muggle fixtures, orlit candles. Those candles show that Queenie and Credence each do shun the darkness at last, while the unlit ones behind Vogel show his complicity in Grindelwald’s rise. Lally’s great chandelier not only mirrors her party-scene action sequence but the literal use of a candelabra as a weapon. Light is a crucial symbol in this film, from the wonderful use of mirrors to the firefly lanterns in that messy monster sequence, so it is fantastic to see how the posters serve to predict this theme as well as specific character arcs. Plus, I just feel deeply justified, considering some of the other guesses were completely off base.

Predictions

So now we must wait to see what happens in the next Fantastic Beasts installment. At the end of the film, Dumbledore says, wisely that Jacob and Queenie’s wedding is a day that divides time into the before and the after.  Since Lally says Jacob met Newt a little over a year before, and the first film was in 1926, it seems to be January or February of 1928.  If, as we suspect, these films will culminate with that important 1945 showdown between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, that means we have 17 years to cover in the next films. Therefore, one of my predictions is that we will jump ahead in time in the coming films and that Queenie and Jacob will have children on the scene and playing important roles before we’re done.

If that timeline proves true, I hope that we may yet see young Tom Riddle, but, even better, I’d love to see a young Hagrid encounter an older Newt, who must surely have been a big fan of Newt’s book, even if it did not bite people. Since this movie has the cases functioning like reverse Horcruxes, one of which contains a pile of the Monster Book of Monsters, I would not be surprised byappearances by Riddle and Hagrid.

More Room of Requirement? One of my favorite aspects of the film was the use of the Room of Requirement, primarily because it proves a theory I have had for a while: Dumbledore always knew about the Room, and his lightweight story about needing a restroom in the middle of the night was a careful plant for Harry to learn about the Room of Requirement. Since it is now obvious that Dumbledore, as always, knows more than he lets on, and now the bloodpact is not an issue, it will be fascinating to see where the next film takes us on our journey to a very important duel and very important wand changing hands.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is an enjoyable film with some real merit under its shiny surface. From the lovely bits of Hogwarts visuals and music, to the powerful emotional moments, this installment has plenty of heart and bodes rather well for the continued story. Please jump in on our comments to offer your thoughts, as we continue our discussion in the days to come!

Comments

  1. Thanks Elizabeth – really enjoyed this!

    Re: the tie – Valerie, @feellikehome_ on Twitter has brilliantly spotted that Grindelwald wore this tie in the previous movies (inc. in the Mirror of Erised) – and that Abernathy was wearing it when he was really Grindelwald. Thought you might enjoy that! She thinks, therefore, that it was a gift from Albus – that would make sense of the fact that flowers is not precisely Grindelwald’s usual aesthetic…

    https://twitter.com/feellikehome_/status/1515738303936569353

  2. Elizabeth Smith says

    Thanks for this breakdown, Elizabeth. Brilliant! I love that you mentioned the use of books in this movie. How fun was it to see books used as a literal way to travel to another “world” (country in this case), a doorway to escape, and protection from harm? We laughed so hard when saw the Monster Book of Monsters attacking!

  3. I cannot get to the theater for a viewing, largely because it will mean the end of any attentiveness to the business at hand this week, but I have been reading reviews off and on since the Premiere. In terms of talking about a movie without spoiling its secrets, this piece is the best in show by a significant margin! Thank you for the care with which you wrote it, for all you said without revealing the actual turn of events in the film.

    And congratulations on the prescience of your poster predictions! Really, between you and Beatrice Groves, The Presence must have been cursing the trailer makers, poster designers, and tie-in book writers for giving the astute observers here such a head start in guessing what would be going on in FB3.

    I have not seen the film but learning here that Queenie really did fall-in with Grindelwald blows my mind. How is that possible, as you say, for a Legilimens with a decent heart who is not under the Imperius curse? I’m confunded or whatever.

    Oh, well! You mention a ring to the story and hope you will write up the latch, pivot, and parallels you noted. Frankly, I’m startled that Rowling’s ring could have survived the Kloves-Heyman-Yates butchery but I very much look forward to reading about it — and anything else you care to write about this film and the franchise future!

  4. Kelly Loomis says

    Thank you for your review. As you point out how details have been consistent, one detail that others have pointed out – it was not my observation – is that Grindelwald’s tie was also seen on the young character in the mirror of erised blood pact flashback scene seen in COG. It was casually thrown over his shoulder. Seeing it across time, I wonder if it was a gift from young Dumbledore or is something important from his backstory. I have to say, I was a little disappointed not to get even more information about their time as young men together.

    And, also, the reveal of Credence’s parentage was so subtle it was a bit of a letdown. I would like to know more about his mother and what transpired for his aunt to be bringing him on the ship voyage to America. There was a supposed leaked photo of a young Arianna from filming played by none other than the real younger sister of Tony Regbo who plays teenage Dumbledore. A flashback to the scene where she was killed may have been filmed. I would have liked to see it but maybe the mystery of who actually killed her is a mystery Dumbledore will always wonder about and form much of the regret he lives his life with.

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