Like most people, I tend to get annoyed at a reinterpretation of existing vintage literary material or if a film is done in such a way to 'modernize' it that it borders on kicking the viewer's intelligence right in the perineum. Yet at the same time, when a film inspired from older material is executed nicely and with care of and respect to the source material I can enjoy it with the best of them. Without thinking, Roxanne (based on Cyranno de Bergerac) is one that I still point to and enjoy after all of these years. Relatively faithful to the material while bringing the surroundings up to the present day is a delicate challenge, to be sure.
Then you have Beastly. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Alex Flinn, who is a well-reputed writer within the young adult genre, and was inspired by the Beauty and the Beast fairytale of the 18th century. The novel was adapted to a screenplay by Daniel Barnz (Phoebe in Wonderland), who also directed. In this retelling, Kyle (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four) is in a school in New York and the world is seemingly at his feet. He can have any girl he wants and he is about to be elected class president. Like most high-school kids of that age, they tend to belittle those who might not be in their same social circles. In this case, Kyle's target is Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen, Full House), who we find out is a witch and casts a spell on him. It is a simple enough spell; Kyle will be turned into a hideous monster, and the curse will not be broken until he finds someone who appreciates his inner beauty. With the help of a visually impaired tutor (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother) and his housekeeper, Kyle realizes this more and more, and begins striking up conversations with Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens, Sex and the City 2). At first the conversations are genial, with Kyle knowing who she is and being enamored with her looks. Then he becomes attracted to her personality and intellect and he hopes that she will be the one to break the curse.
The story has been told and retold through the years, with the Disney film and the CBS show being the two more recognizable versions to most people. Tangentially at this point, I would like to do a community service and note to those unfamiliar that the amazing 1946 version has recently come out on Blu-ray. For better or worse, both of those versions included main characters that one could identify with, whether it was an animated, lifelike character or Linda Hamilton. Yet in Beastly, one is supposed to take Pettyfer superficially because I guess if that's what he does with the rest of the world, we should do that with him. By making him a protagonist in the story where no investment has been made, the viewer is left wondering exactly why we're supposed to care about this guy to begin with. And because he had a fleeting moment when he took a picture with her, he (and by extension we) are supposed to care about Lindy and that he should be with her?
I cannot put a lot of fault on Pettyfer for this, as most of his range goes about as far as the story lets him. That said, Pettyfer is an attractive guy and that's easy for him to convey in the screen time where his face is unmarked, but he doesn't conveyed tortured soul in the film more than he does "argh, my face, I'm not pretty!" Hudgens' Lindy pretty much starts out from the jump as the true love interest for Kyle, but the fact that there is little to no character conflict in that vein makes for lazy storytelling. And speaking of lazy, for a guy that is supposed to be blind, Harris looks like he's spent an awful lot of time picking up people in his eyeline. I can mildly see him in the role of elder sage, but when he's not subconsciously looking to the right spot you can almost spot the wink, almost as if to say, "Yeah, I know. What are you going to do?"
All in all, Beastly at the very least put out in its promotion material what the film was going to be. Yet I was disappointed to see that they would actually stick as close to that as possible, when the source material could have made for a pleasant surprise here and there. Beastly isn't Roxanne, nor is it The Wiz. It is bad storytelling combined with lackluster execution, plain and simple, and my taint still hurts from watching it.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Sony gives the beautiful people in Beastly adequate justice on DVD. Film grain is present when viewing the feature, and black levels are solid with occasional moments of crushing, flesh tones and the color palette are replicated accurately without oversaturation and without much to speak of in terms of haloing or edge enhancement. Sony usually does right by their recent titles, and this one is no exception.
Well, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option is nice. There is opportunity to use the subwoofer most every scene the film can, from environmental exterior shots to club scenes to even perhaps the scene when Kyle is running for school president, there might even be some low-end fidelity there. There is so much subwoofer activity that you almost forget there is dialogue here, and it sounds a little inconsistent, but maybe the sound design is part of the artistic intent-dazzle them with flash while not paying as much attention to substance. I didn't have a problem in listening to it, it was more annoying than anything else.
Not all that much is here, however there is an alternate ending (10:15) that is much closer to the original source material, though when put into the context of the film feels a little bit of an insult. Why modernize it and then go for the original ending? Moving on, three deleted scenes (4:51) don't add anything to the experience, and "A Classic Tale Retold" (10:10) gets into the whys and hows of retelling the story with the obligatory opinions from Hudgens, Pettyfer and Barnz. "Creating the Perfect Beast" (5:08) gives us both the intentions to make Pettyfer look the way he does, along with the process in getting there. A music video for the song "Be Mine" by Kristina and the Dolls (3:05) completes the disc.
The best thing I can say about something like Beastly is, like most other shoddily told modern films based on fairy tales, the notoriety helps them fade into obscurity all the quicker. Technically it's nice to look and listen to, though it's weak on the supplements, symbolic of the film itself. Do yourself a favor and if you do have an urge to watch a Beauty and the Beast retelling, make sure it's not this one.