The beloved fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been lucky enough to receive not one, but two definitive screen adaptations - Jean Cocteau’s magical ‘La belle et la bete’ (1946) and Disney’s superb ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991). Between the two of them, the rich dramatic and visual material in the fairytale has been brought to life so vividly and iconically that the idea of another screen adaptation seems unnecessary. Apparently French director Christophe Gans felt differently, who along with co-writer Sandra Vo-Anh has come up with a new version that takes full advantage of modern technology and visual possibilities. But is his ‘Beauty and the Beast’ another worthy retelling, or a redundant retread?
Gans and Vo-Anh return to Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s original tale, that of Belle (Lea Seydoux), the beautiful daughter of a once-wealthy merchant (Andre Dussollier). Her father has stolen a rose from the enchanted castle of a hideous beast (Vincent Cassel), who demands his life as payment. In order to save her father, Belle goes instead, and finds herself a prisoner to the selfish beast who secretly seeks love from her.
What becomes very clear from Gans’ version is that he has absolutely nothing new to say about the story and its characters at all. In fact, it seems to go backwards rather than forwards. The problem that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ poses to adaptation is that it essentially revolves around two people have snarky conversations over a series of dinners, which isn’t particularly dramatic. Initially, Gans seems to be making the right choices, fleshing out the merchant and his six children (albeit in that dull French way of just making them dull archetypes, but it’s a start). The problem is when it starts to introduce dumb subplots involving psychics, violent debtors and spirits of the forest. All of it seems disingenuous and annoyingly convenient, robbing much agency from its two main characters, and muddies further any discernible suggestion of what the film is actually about.
WATCH: 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST'
It’s an incredible visual feast, Thierry Flamand’s production design and Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s costumes easily the highlights of the film, but it all seems empty when the emotional and narrative content is so lacking. Story threads are not followed through, character development is shallow and, worst of all, there’s no romance. Isn’t this a story about overcoming prejudice and loving someone for who they are inside? Shouldn’t there be some kind of chemistry between the beauty and the beast? Lea Seydoux is doing a great job, though her modern sensibilities seem at odds with the outdated fantasy tropes Gans insists on using, but Vincent Cassel is a deplorable beast, moving between tantrums, whining and some kind of weird feline flirting. He also looks like a cat rather than a beast with the horrid CGI work done to his face. There’s no threat to this beast - he just looks like an over-dressed French dandy. There’s also just no chemistry whatsoever between the two, so that when Love Does Conquer All, it feels totally false. The love hasn’t been developed and certainly hasn’t bee earned. The supporting cast aren’t much better, doing that annoying French thing of going for caricatures instead of actual characters. Apart from Seydoux, who has so much natural charm and talent anyway, the performances are as lazy as the storytelling.
There’s also just no chemistry whatsoever between the two, so that when Love Does Conquer All, it feels totally false.
It’s unfair to hold anything up to the standard to two masterpieces, but Christophe Gans’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has none of the magic of Cocteau’s film nor any of the emotional power of the Disney film. Worst of all, it has nothing new to say or offer about one of the most fascinating and beloved fairytales ever told. It seems to think (like so many recent French films) that pretty visuals will solve all problems, but though the film does look amazing, it means nothing if the story, the characters and the ideas are undeveloped or haphazardly executed. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a forgettable bit of confection at best, but one that goes stale very, very quickly.
PICTURE & SOUND
At least the 1080p 2.35:1 transfer from Madman shows off the best attributes of the film. It never quite shakes the artificial digital look of such an over-designed film, but the gorgeous detail in the design does look beautiful in high definition on Blu-ray. The colours leap off the screen, and clarity throughout is consistent and impressive. There are two DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, one being the original French and the other an English dub (probably to make the film more appealing to an international family audience). I only listened at length to the French track, which sounded terrific. It’s well-balanced and very rich, and adds to the visual magic of the film. The French track is accompanied by English subtitles.
Apart from a theatrical trailer, there are no other special features offered in this disc.