Greetings again from the darkness. If you are looking for dancing tea cups or singing candelabras, you’ve come to the wrong movie. If you are looking for the Gothic approach to the dark psychological analysis of the original story … again, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill, 2006) offers up a version that is neither animated Disney (1991) nor Jean Cocteau (1946), though his film does have a visual flair that will likely keep audiences (it’s not for very young kids) engaged throughout.
The familiar story was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve in 1740, however, it’s the revised version from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 that provides the fairy tale/fable that has been filmed so many times since. The story’s genealogy based in France instills a bit more hope and responsibility in a project starring Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux and Andre Dussolier, and directed by the Frenchman Gans.
Ms. Seydoux is an admirable Belle, and her grace and beauty make for quite the contrast to her needy and entitled sisters. Her time in the castle with the Beast is limited, and therein is the film’s biggest weakness. We never really see the transformation of the Beast to a man who repents, turns over a new leaf, and is worthy of love … it all just kind of happens thanks to the beautiful dresses. Mr. Gans and Sandra Vo-Anh co-wrote the script, and this misstep deflates the core of the story. We are on our own to interpret the messages of class warfare, greed, and judging others by looks. The focus instead is on the visual presentation, which at times is spectacular.
The set design and costumes are especially impressive and elaborate, and though the look of the Beast may not be precisely to your imagination, the film isn’t shy about putting him front and center with the camera. Vincent Cassel’s time as the Prince is pretty well done, and the CGI and explanation of the gold doe, nymph of the forest, magic healing water, pack of beagles and the curse are enough to move the story along … even if some details are lacking.
A bedtime story being read to two young kids is the framing device and might explain why the fantasy world is emphasized over the dark psychological undertones (more prevalent in the Cocteau version). While some might view the ending as somewhat mawkish, it’s really nice to see happily-ever-after is not twisted into some contemporary take on independence.
watch the trailer: