Home > Reviews > FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD – James Newton Howard

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD – James Newton Howard

November 24, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is expanding further beyond the confines of Harry Potter with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second movie in a planned series of five which looks at the life of a wizard who lived more than 60 years before Harry was even born. It builds on the events seen in the 2016 film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and follows Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist who cares for a vast array of curious creatures. Having been integral in the capturing of the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald at the end of the first film, Newt is unexpectedly called back into action again after Grindelwald escapes and flees to Paris. Responding to a personal plea from Albus Dumbledore, his former teacher at Hogwarts Wizarding School, Newt is tasked with stopping Grindelwald from amassing an army of followers – something which brings him back into contact with numerous figures from his past, including the Obscurial Credence Barebone, who was believed to have died during the events in New York, but who is rumored to have survived . The film stars Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller, and is directed by David Yates; this is now the sixth ‘Wizarding Film’ Yates has helmed.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is not as good a film as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; the plot is somehow thinner but also more convoluted at the same time, and some of the set pieces occasionally make the film feel like it is treading water. Some of the character motivations and decisions feel a little out-of-the-blue, but I’m confident that this will play out in future installments. Despite this, there is still a great deal to admire. I love how, after spending the first eight Harry Potter films in England, these new films are expanding the scope of the story onto a global scale, showing us magical life in New York, and now Paris. I love how it re-introduces major characters from the first film – like the Goldstein sisters, and the American muggle Jacob Kowalski – while expanding the roles of others, notably Leta Lestrange. I love how the film dips into Harry Potter lore, cleverly building up to events book readers already know will happen, and dropping in Easter eggs like Nicolas Flamel’s cameo with the Philosopher’s Stone, the origins of Nagini, or us finally finding out what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror of Erised. And I love how, like the Potter stories, these Fantastic Beasts movies are slowly becoming more adult and serious, working in themes relating to destiny and identity, and paralleling Grindelwald’s rise with the emergence of fascism in Europe prior to World War II. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here – and how the end of this story will (hopefully) tie in with the beginnings of Voldemort.

Another thing I love about The Crimes of Grindelwald is the music which, like the first Fantastic Beasts movie, is by James Newton Howard. The 67-year-old American wrote one of the best scores of his illustrious career for that first film, and although (like the film itself) The Crimes of Grindelwald is a tiny step down, there is nevertheless an enormous amount of excellent music to get excited about. Maintaining musical thematic consistency within franchises has been something that people have made a big deal about in recent years, with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings standing at one end of the spectrum as an example of how to do it well, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the other end as an example of how to do it really badly. Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts is placing itself at the ‘doing it well’ end, as Howard has brought back many of the leitmotifs from the first movie into this second score, including the warm and playful Newt’s Theme, the exciting action theme for ‘Newt the Hero,’ the glorious Danny Elfman-esque Friendship Theme which is now clearly a love theme for Newt and the American auror Tina Goldstein, and the wondrous theme that only appears to feature in main title sequences. It’s also at this point that I need to correct a mistake – the piece I called the ‘Witches Theme’ in my review of the first score is, in actual fact, Howard’s overall Fantastic Beasts main theme, and it appears again here, but in a much more overarching setting.

Mirroring the tone of the film itself, for the most part the music in The Crimes of Grindelwald is darker than that in Fantastic Beasts. The sense of playful wonderment is certainly still in evidence, especially as it relates to Newt, but much more important in this film is a feeling of loss, and contemplation, combined with a more prominent sense of potentially impending doom as Grindelwald imposes himself more on the story. There are fewer moments of comedy mickey mousing related to nifflers (or any of Newt’s other cute critters), and virtually none of the New York ragtime jazz that came to define Jacob’s character. It’s also important to note that, for the most part, the action music is toned down significantly too. Although there certainly are some action sequences within the film, they come across as being much more serious and threatening, and don’t have the brightness and effervescence of something like “The Erumpent,” ”Swooping Evil,” or “The Demiguise and the Occamy” from the first movie.

The deeper emotions I mentioned before come out through this film’s new thematic ideas, which relate to Dumbledore, Leta Lestrange, and Grindelwald. Dumbledore has never had a personal theme prior to this film, so it’s nice to see Howard taking on the challenge of capturing this complicated character through music. The resultant melody is built around a recurring 9-note phrase which paints the man as warm, approachable, dependable, with an inherent nobility that is hugely appealing. The theme for Leta Lestrange is equally beautiful, but with a more uncertain air, and a touch of longing and regret. Leta – for those unfamiliar – was one of Newt’s closest friends when they were both at Hogwarts school together, but an unspecified incident led to Newt taking the blame for something Leta did and getting expelled. This, combined with the fact that Leta herself comes from a pure blooded wizarding family with a history of dabbling in dark magic, gives her relationship with Newt as an adult a complicated edge, as does the fact that she is engaged to be married to Newt’s brother Theseus.

Grindelwald doesn’t so much have a melody as a set of musical tones which signify his omnipresence over the story. The core idea of his theme is a groaning, descending string figure which combines with an unusual howling electronic texture and a children’s choir performing a three note la-la-la motif. Grindelwald’s theme is actually the very first thing heard at the beginning of the first cue, “The Thestral Chase,” albeit with a brief moment of lip service to John Williams’s Hedwig’s theme in the opening seconds. This cue slowly reveals itself to be an action sequence where Grindelwald – who had been in prison in the United States, having been captured at the end of the first film – successfully escapes from captivity with the help of followers embedded deep within MACUSA, the American magical ministry, and flees in a commandeered flying stagecoach. Dark, sinister chords and a chanting choir slowly emerge into a brutal, threatening sequence for low-end brass, swirling menacing strings, and unusual metallic sound effects. The moments of revelation and magic are accompanied by ominous fanfares, while the action music itself is aggressive and militaristic, punctuated with more choral chants, and echoing some of the best rhythmic action music from across Howard’s career. Eventually the cue emerges into a statement of the one-off Main Titles theme at 7:13 – and the story begins in earnest.

Leta’s Theme is introduced in the second cue, “Newt and Leta,” which underscores the scene where Newt unexpectedly meets with his former girlfriend during a visit to the Ministry of Magic. There is initially some scampering comedy music for Newt’s pet niffler, but when Leta’s theme eventually appears it is orchestrated for warm strings, soft woodwinds, and pretty harp accents, clearly signifying the tender relationship between them. Dumbledore’s Theme is introduced in the third cue, “Dumbledore,” as the erstwhile Hogwarts professor tries to convince Newt to travel to Paris to track down both Grindelwald and Credence, as they stroll around London. The music here is magical, flighty, whimsical, a little mischievous, and full of pretty textures, and has several statements of Dumbledore’s Theme on warm strings beginning at 0:48.

Newt returns to his London home to contemplate Dumbledore’s request, where we learn that his basement is enchanted with a spell similar to the one that affects his briefcase, and that all manner of fantastic beasts reside within. He has a wondrous encounter with “The Kelpie,” a magical water creature, and enjoys a thrilling ride on its back, accompanied by a brief action cue which is similar to the expansive music heard during the “Inside the Case” cue from the first score. He also has a wondrous encounter with two of his old friends from New York, Queenie Goldstein and Jacob Kowalski, who inform him that Queenie’s sister Tina is now working in magical law enforcement as an auror for MACUSA, and is in Paris looking for Grindelwald and Credence too. However, despite being engaged, something is not quite right between Queenie and Jacob, and when the truth is revealed Queenie flees. Having had their hand forced by Queenie’s actions, Newt and Jacob decide to travel to Paris together – Newt with the dual purpose of helping Dumbledore and re-connecting with Tina, and Jacob wanting to get Queenie back. In “Newt and Jacob Pack for Paris” Howard offers subtle hints of both Jacob’s ragtime theme and the Fantastic Beasts theme throughout, orchestrated in a whimsical, light, almost comedic way, along with some Parisian flair through the use of accordions.

A brand new theme is introduced in “Nagini,” which acts as an introduction to the character who will eventually become Voldemort’s snake horcrux. However, here it is revealed that Nagini actually began her life as a human woman afflicted with a ‘maledictus’ curse, and is destined to permanently transform into a snake at some point. Here, though, she is an attraction at a freak show called the Circus Arcanus, and has befriended Credence, who is also working there. Nagini is musically accompanied by churning chords in the basses, and enigmatic choral moans, clearly insinuating that dark magic is at work. The twisted circus-like variation on the main Fantastic Beasts theme at 3:24 is interesting, slithery and serpentine, but like much of the score the whole thing is underpinned with regret and sadness – there are so many characters struggling to deal with who they are, who they will become, and how the events of the past affect the present.

The next four cues are all about love and loss, as four of the main characters have vastly different experiences as they seek meaningful relationships. “Newt Tracks Tina” begins as a lovely piece of sprightly, jaunty caper music, full of movement and dexterity through its dancing strings and twittering woodwinds, but eventually segues into a gorgeous statement of the Friendship theme at 1:26, as Newt and Tina re-connect for the first time since they parted on the docks in New York at the end of the first movie. Conversely, Queenie’s relationships with Jacob and Tina risk being torn apart forever as, while searching Paris for both her sister and fiancée, she suffers a breakdown; “Queenie Searches for Jacob” is a desperately sad portrait of loneliness, and features an especially powerful performance from a boy’s choir, as well as a prescient inclusion of Grindelwald’s motif towards the end of the piece.

“Irma and the Obscurus” is also filled with sadness and longing as Credence and Nagini attempt to find out about what happened to his birth parents, but only find his former nanny, living alone in a dilapidated apartment. The solemn string lines suddenly explode into an enormous throbbing action sequence, filled with chanting choral textures and broad orchestral strokes that seek to mirror some of the Obscurus ideas from the first film, as Credence is force to protect himself from an attack by another Ministry auror sent to track him. The final one of these ‘relationship’ cues is “Blood Pact,” which underscores the Mirror of Erised sequence where it is finally revealed that young Dumbledore and young Grindelwald had a much closer relationship than anyone realized – which is why Dumbledore could not go after Grindelwald himself. Grindelwald’s textures combine with a wistful variation on a deconstructed part of Dumbledore’s theme, arranged for harp, glockenspiel, strings, choir, and an emotional solo cello.

The superb ‘Newt the Hero’ theme appears for the first time in “Capturing the Zouwu,” a light action sequence that accompanies a scene where Newt and Tina work together to tame a Chinese lion-dragon hybrid which has escaped from the Circus Arcanus. In the subsequent “Traveling to Hogwarts” Howard arranges his Fantastic Beasts theme with the same essence of magic that John Williams brought to the orchestration of Hedwig’s theme, featuring prominent celesta and shimmering strings, as delegates from the Ministry of Magic – including Leta – travel to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to confront Dumbledore. “Leta’s Flashback” features an extended statement of Leta’s theme for choir, harp, and lush strings, as she remembers her time at Hogwarts, her friendship with Newt, and the circumstances that brought the two outcasts together.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, Newt and Tina finally reconcile inside the French Ministry of Magic, where they are looking for more information that will help them find Grindelwald and Credence. “Salamander Eyes” is built around a truly beautiful extended statement of the Friendship Theme for strings and piano; eventually, this segues into some magical writing for chorus, harp, subtle brass, and high strings, peppered with hints of Leta’s theme. The subsequent “Matagots” is an action sequence that accompanies the scene where Newt and Tina flee from an attack by the curious cat-like guardians inside the French Ministry’s library. The music here is vivid and dynamic, with bold orchestra strokes featuring especially prominent brass, and a fantastic statement of Newt the Hero at 1:15.

The conclusion of the film – and score – begins with “Leta’s Confession,” in which Leta finally explains what happened to her younger brother – an event which changed her life forever, and directly has an impact on Credence. As Leta explains the story there are numerous moments of trepidation, regret, and sadness; the overarching Fantastic Beasts theme plays an important part in the early moments of the cue, although it is darkened somewhat by the way Howard uses the chorus and the string sustains. The statement of Leta’s theme in the cue’s second half is drenched in melancholy – more harp, more choir – and it rises to an emotional string-led finale. In “Vision of War” Howard uses brooding strings and ominous choral textures, which become oppressive and harsh as Grindelwald outlines his plans for domination by showing his followers a glimpse into the future and the horrors of World War II, and arguing that wizards can stop the devastation by taking over. Grindelwald’s textures are all over this cue, and appear more forthright than ever before, while clanking metallic percussion is indicative of the militaristic war machine.

The score’s action finale is underscored with two astonishingly powerful cues, “Spread the Word” and “Wands into the Earth,” as a magical battle erupts between Grindelwald and his followers, and the alliance between Newt, Tina, Theseus, and his Ministry aurors. The first cue is beautifully magical, full of lithe strings, harp glissandi, and a softly vocalizing choir, counterbalanced with the Grindelwald textures. It builds with a sense of purpose, using the chords from the Fantastic Beasts theme as a guide, to an epic finale, and then into the second cue, where all hell breaks loose. The same stylistics are used to devastating emotional effect, imbued with a sense of destiny and finality. There are huge orchestral crescendos, throbbing brass fanfares and timpani hits, and explosions of choral majesty. Listen especially for the superb interplay between the trumpets and horns at 2:11 and 2:27, and the big heroic statement of the Fantastic Beasts theme at 3:42.

“Restoring Your Name” is the aftermath of the battle – sides have been taken, relationships have been broken, lines have been drawn. There is yet more tragedy and loss in the strings, but this is counterbalanced by a clear sense of warmth and hope from the horns. The statement of Dumbledore’s theme at 3:27 is solid and dependable, like the calming presence of a trusted friend. The statement of the Fantastic Beasts theme at 3:56 is likewise optimistic and cathartic. However it all ends with the Grindelwald material as the dark wizard – having escaped the battle alive and retreated to his castle in the Alps with his followers – reveals Credence’s real name. Churning orchestral passages, magical chimes, and choral textures all combine and build until the moment of explosive revelation. The final cue, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” is the first part of the end credits, and is energetic and full of movement. I especially like the flash of Newt the Hero, as well as the way Howard allows the score to finish on an unresolved chord, hinting at more to come.

Rounding out the album are three solo piano performances of “Dumbledore’s Theme,” the “Fantastic Beasts Theme,” and “Leta’s Theme,” played by Howard himself, which are just lovely and allow listeners to really familiarize themselves with the melodies.

It’s interesting to me how quickly James Newton Howard has established a clear signature sound for the Fantastic Beasts films. In many ways Howard has done what the four composers for the Harry Potter films – John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper, and Alexandre Desplat – could not, and that is to create a uniform melodic base for the characters and the settings that carry on through multiple movies. By the end of the original 8-film run only Hedwig’s Theme unified the franchise, as each subsequent composer sought to impose their own sound and own thematic ideas. In just two films, Howard has already established a number of unique recurring ideas, and I hope that he is allowed to continue and build on them himself over the course of the series.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a genuinely great score. It is steeped in the bold fantasy sound that Howard has been establishing for a decade or so, through scores like Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman, King Kong, and others, and will absolutely appeal to anyone who has enjoyed one or more of those excellent works. The new thematic ideas are superb, especially the ones for Dumbledore and Leta, and the way they combine with the ones he set up in the first movie is intellectually satisfying. What’s most impressive to me, though, is the way that Howard has introduced darker and more menacing elements into the fabric of the score to reflect the deepening seriousness of the story as a whole. Although he has had to sacrifice some of the first score’s whimsy and playfulness to do it – and although the score is a tiny bit less enjoyable as a result – it was important that Howard informed the audience, and told the story that needed to be told.

Buy the Crimes of Grindelwald soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Thestral Chase (8:04)
  • Newt and Leta (2:32)
  • Dumbledore (2:11)
  • The Kelpie (1:32)
  • Newt and Jacob Pack for Paris (2:27)
  • Nagini (4:15)
  • Newt Tracks Tina (2:27)
  • Queenie Searches for Jacob (1:35)
  • Irma and the Obscurus (2:56)
  • Blood Pact (2:29)
  • Capturing the Zouwu (1:33)
  • Traveling to Hogwarts (1:06)
  • Leta’s Flashback (4:40)
  • Salamander Eyes (2:28)
  • Matagots (2:15)
  • Your Story is Our Story (3:21)
  • Leta’s Confession (5:14)
  • Vision of War (3:49)
  • Spread the Word (4:01)
  • Wands into the Earth (4:04)
  • Restoring Your Name (6:20)
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2:40)
  • Dumbledore’s Theme (Piano Solo) (1:27)
  • Fantastic Beasts Theme (Piano Solo) (1:37)
  • Leta’s Theme (Piano Solo) (2:04)

Running Time: 77 minutes 17 seconds

Watertower Music (2018)

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Peter Boyer, Jim Honeyman, Philip Klein, Jon Kull and John Ashton Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy and Peter Cobbin. Edited by Jim Weidman and Cecile Tournesac. Album produced by James Newton Howard.

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  1. November 24, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    My review of the score was pretty similar. It is a great piece of music, just slightly not as great as the first one… but considering how near perfect the first score is, that is not much of a problem. A lot of wonderful moments in this and I especially love the new material for Dumbledore. Great review as always.

  2. Michael
    November 26, 2018 at 6:20 am

    Good review. I disagree about Grindelwald not having a theme. JNH brings a fanfare that it’s heard on the first score when Grindelwald is exposed and reshapes it into a longer theme. You can hear it twice on The Thestral Chase. Also, I’m glad he avoids the trap on The Hunger Games of basically reusing full cues of the first score above writing new themes.

    While some unreleased cues from the first score got reworked on this one, James doesn’t sacrifice originality. And I was kind of surprised to hear Desplat’s trademark synth bass on Restoring Your Name.

  3. Terry93D
    November 27, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Interesting to note that “Traveling to Hogwarts,” heard in the film, uses ‘Hedwig’s theme,’ not the ‘Fantastic Beasts theme’. A disappointment as it was a marvelous opportunity to establish it as a strong second musical identity to the Wizarding World films.

    I found the movie very disappointing, badly muddled, inconsistent, and that ending twist smacks of the poor storytelling decisions that Rowling has made in seemingly all the spinoff material she’s written for HP. The first FB, at least, was good enough and charming enough that you could easily ignore its problems. The second FB has even more, the ending throwing into sharp relief just how fast and loose Rowling is playing with her world – something which I didn’t care about in the first film because it was good, whereas the second is a mess.

    Regardless of the direction the series takes from a story point of view, though, I have little doubt the music will be exceptional thanks to JNH’s magnificent scores.

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