Sometimes we just don't "get" things, and that's ok. What one person may find entertaining and enjoyable, I might find slow and drawn out. That was the case with my first encounter with "The Beach". Not the movie, I'll talk about that in a moment. When the movie was first announced as being in production, I picked up Alex Garland's hugely popular novel and found it to be a pretty tedious read. It certainly was going to make for a visually thrilling movie, but would the story be able to be translated (or, for a better term, streamlined) into a film?
Under the direction of "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle, the story begins to come together - to a point. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story revolves around a tourist named Richard(Leonardo Dicaprio). The film opens in Bangkok, where Richard is looking for adventure and finds it once he receives a map from a drifter named Daffy( "Trainspotting"'s Robert Carlyle) who promptly commits suicide soon after. Richard asks a French couple, Franciose(Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne to join him on his journey. They finally reach their destination only to be shot at by the locals; as they run to the other side of the island, they find a group of natives who accept them into their society of living off the land.
The only rule is that no one else can know about the peaceful land the group has found; but, of course, events will arise that will endanger them all. I don't remember much about Garland's novel since it was a while since I've read it and didn't care for it. I will say though that I was impressed that Boyle and writer John Hodge were able to streamline it into a story that works, at least most of the time.
There's still problems with the film, both creatively and carried over the from story. Richard is an odd character; he can be interesting and sympthatic in his narration, then turn into an annoying character that is prone to anger and arguement. There's also a sequence that turns into a video game that's simply too weird for words, as well. The performances aren't bad, although Dicaprio's Richard is really the only character focused on in the film. Everyone else really doesn't get that much to do.
Still, "The Beach" remained moderately entertaining. It's a visually great looking film, with wonderful scenery and great cinematography. Although there's some noticable problems, it's still an improvement over Boyle's last film, "A Life Less Ordinary".
VIDEO: I was curious as to who was responsible for "The Beach"'s hypnotically beautiful images, and when I picked up the box, the cinematographer listed made things clear; Darius Khonji, the ace cinematographer behind such films as "Seven" and "Evita" is responsible here, and his work is absolutely stunning. Fox's transfer doesn't dissapoint, either. In fact, it's really one of the most remarkably beautiful looking transfers I've seen from the studio in their recent group of excellent efforts. Images are consistently razor sharp and as crystal clear as the water surrounding the island. Detail is good as well, even in the film's darker scenes, of which there are quite a few. Colors are what you could expect from a film that takes place on an island paradise; the image is consistently washed in a sea of natural and lovely greens, blues and other colors. Colors never show any problems and look consistently stunning. Black level is solid and flesh tones are fine, as well.
This is a completely natural looking image with no problems to distract from a fantastic transfer. No shimmering, no pixelation and a print that's in perfect condition with no marks or scratches whatsoever. Another effort from Fox that deserves high praise and also, offers great promise for the future offerings from the studio. If all of the future efforts from the studio can look this good, DVD fans are going to be very, very happy. Great work from Fox. Note: I spotted the layer change at 1:12:40.
SOUND: "The Beach" also sports a very enjoyable and agressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The rainstorm in Chapter 5 sounds practically as if the rain is comming down in my own room, with nice detail from all sides. The sound for the rest of the picture follows along with that example, offering a lot of wonderfully clear and natural sounds of the island, which make for a nice sense of space. Surround use is very pleasing and sometimes more agressive during the more intense sequences. I also kinda dug the film's techo/pop soundtrack, which sounds great on this DVD, with a nice, rich presence that sounds wonderful. Dialogue is also clear and easily understood. All in all, a very good sound mix.
MENUS:: As with many of the studio's recent efforts, they have made improvements to their animated menus, and the menus that "The Beach" sports are really fine work. Really impressive is the animation that moves through images to the sub-menus once a viewer makes the choice from the main menu. Involving lush animation and images/clips from the movie, the menus for "The Beach" are a great introduction to the movie. It's sort of hard to explain exactly how these menus function, but I will say that I was suprised and pleased with how well done they are.
EXTRAS:: Before I get into the extras proper, I'm going to take a moment to talk about the promo that 20th Century Fox has included with this DVD when the disc is first inserted. I actually did not mind this as much as the Disney ads that appear when their disc is first inserted. This ad is a long advertisement for upcoming 20th Century Fox DVDs; it's in Dolby Digital 5.1, and I appreciated that Fox really puts it best foot forward here and states with authority that the great things you've seen from us lately aren't going to be a one time only thing - Fox's improvements will continue to appear. And you can skip past it after watching it once, anyways.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Danny Boyle that is very informative and very entertaining. This is not really a "technical" nor a "story" discussion, but a nice mixture of both. Boyle energetically shares his tales of shooting the film, and during many sequences he shares his viewpoint about how he went about creating a look and tone for many of the film's sequences. He also occasionally mentions details about the locations(the film was shot in Thailand), as well.
There were parts where I would have liked to hear more comments from the director, who seems to pause now and then to let a scene play out. Still, there are some great stories about the film and even some amusing tales as well (50 people are apparently killed by falling Coconuts in the area each year, according to Boyle).
There are also the usual commentary topics covered; the director chats about what it was like to work with the actors involved, but really doesn't stay too terribly long on that topic. Mainly, Boyle seems content to talk about the film's themes and stories from the set. That's certainly fine in this case because the director makes for an engaging discussion; even though there are some small pauses of silence, he is informative and analyzes the film very well.
Trailers: There are 4 trailers included; a cool international trailer, as well as the also very good US trailers(2 trailers+teaser trailer). Personally I like "trailer C" the best. All trailers are presented in Dolby 2.0.
TV Spots: There are 10 TV Spots included, all can be selected seperately, and are listed by "title".
Deleted Scenes: There are 9 deleted scenes included; all of which are in fair quality, but still watchable. The only oddity is that they are labeled as "property of 20th Century Fox" as well as "Deleted Scenes For DVD". These scenes can be watched with or without Boyle's commentary and include an alternate opening and ending, as well as some other sequences. They make for interesting viewing, but were likely left out of the film for considerations of running time, and rightly taken out. Boyle's commentary on these deleted scenes offers a lot of insight and I found his comments to be informative here, as well.
Music Video: The music video for All Saint's "Pure Shores", paired with a short promo for the film's soundtrack.
Featurette: A short featurette for the film, mainly promotional in nature, offering some basic information through interviews and other offerings. Nice to have as an additional feature, but it doesn't contain too much in the way of information about the film.
Storyboards: The final notable supplement is a large gallery offering storyboards from the film.
Cast&Crew Bios: Bios for many of the film's actors and crew.
Final Thoughts: Whether you like the movie or not (I thought it was watchable and moderately entertaining, but flawed), Fox's DVD production keeps going strong with another fine effort, showing that their commitment to quality continues after a series of outstanding 2 DVD Special Editions. "The Beach" offers jaw-droppingly good picture quality, very pleasing sound quality and a helping of solid extras. A very excellent effort from 20th Century Fox.