Popculture, counterculture, gender patterns, satire, social perspective… the list of the potential filters is expanding so fast, it’s basically endless. From Catherine Breillat’s Sleeping Beauty, through Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan to Adamson and Jenson’s Shrek, there’s a plethora of varied, ambitious examples of how cinema deals with dusty classics. Unfortunately, Christophe Gans’s Beauty and the Beast is sad, ridiculous and of little imagination.
We all know the story: Belle, a young girl whose father is imprisoned by the Beast, offers herself instead and discovers that her captor is in fact an enchanted prince. Their pure love washes his past sins away, the evil spell evaporates and they live happily (and wealthy) ever after. This traditional fairy tale has been adapted for screen and TV many times, just to mention Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version or Disney’s popular 1991 animation. So why take a chance again?
Because it’s truly worth it. In our times this old french fable could serve as a treasury of great threads. It deals with the culture that supports superficiality and judging people on their looks, opens a chance to subvert dominant patriarchal relationship patterns, touches upon obsession with financial success and consumerism, debunks rules of class society. However, all the director was interested in doing was a dead-serious, literal translation of the old, written word into film, 1:1. The effect is a CGI-obsessed gold-and-rubies-soaked cross of Labyrinth, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Twilight.
Leya Seydoux Belle’s initial fear of the Beast is rather incredible, because even a person with one eye can tell this is no beast but Vincent Cassel pretending to be a lion! On a more serious note: If deciding to actually show the Beast’s face, more inventiveness, maybe a taste for abstraction, could’ve been helpful. But the makeup department obviously was a big fan of Mike Nichol’s Wolf. Too bad, because the Beast’s literal catsy look, the paws and claws, was a complete misstep that immediately puts the film into the category of kitschy absurdity.
The primal relationship between Beast and Belle is completely unconvincing. In the original version he had to overcome his hubris, truly transform, repent and she’d see his reborn soul more beautiful than his repulsive disdain for shaving – and love him. In the film he’s a presumptuous, irritating egotist with poor dancing skills, who must also smell pretty bad considering he’s always wearing the same shiny tuxedo he obviously stole from Elton John. A surly chauvinist with anger management issues, Beast could by no means be attractive to an eloquent girl raised by a loving and caring father figure. In fact, if the script had been at all consistent and interested in logically developing its female character, Belle would probably dissed the prince upon discovering his interest for her might have something to do with the fact she is virtually an exact copy of his tragically deceased wife (a half-woman half-deer, just to mention).
Who exactly is this film for? Too violent and explicit for kids and too flat-out-naive for thinking adults, I’m afraid Beauty and the Beast can play well only with fans of Italian commercial TV or Harlequin addicts. Or very determined explorers of alternative medicine: they might be able to crack the secret of magical healing water and golden flowing sparks that float the screen every now and then.
The French production had a truly impressive budget at its disposal. Estimated 33 million Euro (about 45 milion USD) have been put into the lavish set design and costumes, impressive special effects and long hours of animal trainer work. However, none of it have been invested in the script, or so it seems. This gold-foil blingy package covers damaged goods: an unbelievably obsolete tale of how an innocent woman conforms to the power of patriarchal society and wins happiness as a wife. I mean, really? It’s 2014 for heaven’s sake.