It is pretty much a proven formula for the entertainment industry at this point: write or adapt something primarily geared towards women, make it a romance, toss in a vampire, werewolf, wizard or some/all of the aforementioned, and you are bound to make a respectable amount of coin for it. Stephanie Meyer paved the way, y'all! And when Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl co-wrote the novel which would become Beautiful Creatures, little did they know of the popularity that would come their way, writing several other novels under the "Caster Chronicles" series, and Warner Brothers came calling to make a big-screen adaptation of their first.
Richard LaGravenese (Freedom Writers) adapted the novel into a screenplay under his direction. Ethan (Alden Ehrenrich, Stoker) is a kid growing up in Gatlin, South Carolina, and cannot wait for college to happen so he can run out of the town and never look back. He meets Lena (Alice Englert, In Fear), who is new in town but looks an awful lot like a girl Ethan has been seeing frequently in his dreams. Ethan wants to get to know Lena more, but she is reclusive, made all the moreso by her strict father Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, The Borgias). The introduction of Lena's mother Mavis (Emma Thompson, Brave) and cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum, Poseidon) as a means to thwart Ethan from being with Lena can only go so far in Ethan trying to be with the girl that he seems to be destined to meet.
From a traditional storytelling perspective, the story is unlike many that have come before it. Two kids feel out of place in their current environs, strike a powerful emotional chord of familiarity in each other and decide to pursue it, much to the chagrin of everyone else they know but each other. And it is fine, I get it. But the chemistry between Ehrenrich and Englert feels superficial and without any resonance to speak of. Sure, you may want to put two good looking kids together as part of some sort of romance, but it is another to make it actually work. The former seems to be fine, the latter? Not so much, especially when one is pondering moments of a franchise like the story and subsequent releases seem to be. The attempts to make things work are entirely too forced and are not believable.
The settings in the film are fairly decent; goodness knows I felt as if I were dropped in the middle of South Cackalacky with little wonder as to where I was or how I got there, but the other more key portions of the locations felt entirely too sterile, and the accents of Irons, Thompson and Englert dipped into Jeff Bridges in Blown Away levels of authenticity. The lack of personality and authenticity in many of the key players within the story and film was more than a little discouraging. And for as good an actress as Thompson is, she lacks any real gravitas in the movie past the stereotypical â€˜disapproving parent.' It seemed unclear and a waste of Thompson's prodigious ability, and I have not even touched upon Amma, played by Viola Davis (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), another waste of someone's talents in this movie.
For as much as Thompson and Irons' collective talents are squandered, strangely enough the younger leads are actually quite serviceable in their lead roles. Ehrenrich is good not only with the voiceover but with the acted sequences, even when he is under a spell. Englert plays the expected role of the eye of attention nicely, occasionally floating between worlds with some convincing. As this is one of the few stories which shows a male lead falling for a female one (as opposed to vice versa), if nothing else this was a pleasant change of pace.
At the end of the day, Beautiful Creatures is a nice idea though ultimately is not entirely sure of what it wants to become when it grows up. Foundation to a franchise? Standalone teen movie, who's to say? But if this film goes along the Narnia route when it comes to future potential for sequels or film adaptations, that may be one thing. But if the first film is any indication, things are far from promising.
Warner presents Beautiful Creatures with an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, and the results are somewhat mixed. Film grain is present and image detail is ample, though the latter does tend to fluctuate over the course of the film. Flesh tones are reproduced nicely and the color palette of the film tends to flirt with oversaturation on occasion. Black levels do have a tendency to crush and on occasion the computer generated effects simply look murky. My jaw did not drop when watching Beautiful Creatures but it was decent viewing regardless.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track does some good lifting during the listening experience. Whether it is supporting a slightly music-forward, the ample use of voiceover or in more dynamic sequences when the casters get down to business, is encouraging to listen to. It does not really get a chance to use all of the capabilities it could, but the story attempts to balance romance and supernatural action adequately and the soundtrack does this about as well as can be anticipated.
One would think that if there is the remote chance that this becomes a franchise that more thought was put into the bonus material. "Book to Screen" (3:58) looks at how LaGravenese adapted the book into a screenplay, what the cast liked about it and how the casting choices game about. "The Casters" (3:22) interviews the actors on their thoughts of definitions for the characters, "Between Two Worlds" (4:17) has the cast on the roles they play, and "Forbidden Romance" (3:12) is the cast on the story. "Alternate Worlds" (5:17) touches upon the CG and visual effects for the film and how certain sequences were shot, and the cast on working around them. "Designing the Costumes" (3:51) is self-explanatory. Four deleted scenes (8:10) are nothing special, while three trailers (7:11) complete the supplements on the disc. Beautiful Creatures is a combo pack which has a second disc with an SD copy of the film (where the screengrabs come from) and a code to redeem for streaming via Ultraviolet.
Beautiful Creatures may be trying to be part of a larger destiny past its first installment. Which is fine, but at the very least the film is something that we have seen countless times before, and if the film is attempting to make itself part of a larger mythology, it has some work to do. Technically it is okay and from a bonus material perspective kind of sucks. If you like the usual scenes of someone who is doing something all mythical than this may be for you, otherwise I would skip it.