After viewing Jean Cocteau's 1946 fairytale masterpiece, Beauty
and the Beast, I've come to greatly appreciate the ongoing
effort that goes into restoring classic films. And I'm thrilled
that fine packages like this one from the Criterion Collection
are being made. People who are into classic and foreign films
will absolutely love this DVD, not only for the movie's wonderful
artistic expression, but also for the care and detail that went
into assembling this DVD release.
It's evident that the Disney writers must have studied this movie
extensively when writing the screenplay for their 1991 animated
hit film, because there are startling similarities between these
two movies. However take note that these films are far from the
same. In fact, the plots are substantially different, and the
endings are not even remotely close to matching. This is not a
bad thing, as I undeniably prefer the Disney version to
Cocteau's, but that's just my personal taste. And it must be
understood that these movies are two different beasts, (pun
intended) and that their intentions are vastly different. Cocteau
wanted his film to reflect his poetic nature, and love for the
dramatic, whereas Disney wanted to appeal to young children and
the mass media market. So even though these movies have a
multitude of similarities, they are in essence night and day.
The film stars Jean Marais, (The Beast & Avenant) and Josette
Day (Belle). The movie begins much like Cinderella, in that Belle
has two greedy and wicked sisters who care only about money and
prestige, and are constantly picking on and insulting their more
beautiful sister, Belle. The story quickly shows that their
family was once rich, but hard times have forced them into
poverty, and the two sisters cannot handle the loss of their
fortune. Belle is subsequently forced to do all of the housework
on her own. Belle's father attempts to return home from a failed
business trip one night but gets lost, and finds himself at the
foot of a mysterious enchanted castle. The Beast finds him
stealing a single rose from his garden, and tells him he will be
killed for his actions unless one of his daughters will take his
place as the Beast's prisoner. Belle's father is allowed to go
home with only his word to the beast as his bond. From here the
story plays much like the Disney version, except for the ongoing
story about Belle's love interest back home, and her money
grubbing sisters, who will do anything to be rich again.
Overall I found the film very interesting and enjoyable, however
I thought the choice of dialogue at times was very poor, and
noticed several holes in the plot that were never explained. But
truthfully, the beauty of this film is in the presentation, not
the story. Filmed in France not long after World War II, it's
clear this movie took a lot of hard work and effort to create
considering the time period it was made. And after watching the
wonderful package of special features offered on this disc,
you'll know more about this movie than you probably ever thought possible.
Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast is a different kind
of movie made during a very different time. It's a classic fable
told in the most honored and artistic tradition. And although
this fairytale is probably unfit for the youngest of children, it
can still be enjoyed by adults who are children at heart.
Video: Beauty and the Beast is
presented in the original 1.33:1 full screen format. This is a
black and white movie that looks outstanding after the incredible
restoration project that was undertaken to revive this film.
After looking at scenes of the film before the restoration, it's
almost a miracle that they could make it look this good.
Naturally the film still looks old, even after the magical
restoration. There are lots of spots, lines, and dust visible in
the picture, but this is to be expected. Overall, this movie
looks great, which is no small feat considering the
transformation it had to go through.
Audio: Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast
is presented in Dolby Digital mono. It sounds perhaps a little
better than you would expect a 57-year-old movie to sound. The
French dialogue is easy to hear, but there is a
"crackling-pop" sound always present. This is a French
film, but for those of you who aren't fluid in the language worry
not, for there are English subtitles. And for you purists out
there, you can also watch the film with the subtitles off.
Although I enjoyed listening to the original soundtrack, in some
ways I preferred the optional Opera audio track composed by
Philip Glass, which is stunningly presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.
Listening to this audio track greatly enhances the movie, and
having all 6 speakers work at the same time makes for a more
enveloping and magical experience. But this is a matter of
personal taste, and most will surely prefer the original dialogue
Extras: This DVD comes with a hefty load of
special features, and does well to educate any hardcore fan of
the movie. The extras are extensive, so here's a very brief
rundown of what you get.
Original Opera: This is an audio track
specifically composed by Philip Glass for this movie. Watching
the movie with this soundtrack greatly changes the mood of the
film, and gives it a more whimsical vibe. I highly recommend
viewing the movie with this audio track enabled at least once.
Screening at the Majestic: This is a (1995)
documentary featuring interviews with the varying cast and crew.
Two commentary tracks: We get two commentary
tracks, one from renowned film historian Arthur Knight, and the
other from writer/cultural historian, Sir Christopher Frayling.
Both commentaries are loaded with dizzying amounts of information
about this classic film. People who love the movie owe it to
themselves to sit through these commentaries.
Behind-the-scene and publicity stills: Title says
Original trailer: This trailer was directed and
narrated by Jean Cocteau.
Film restoration demonstration: This
demonstration was fascinating to see and really gives the viewer
an appreciation for how much the film's appearance has been
Reprint of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont's original fable:
This is an English translation of the original fairytale by Mme.
Leprince de Beaumont.
Rounding out the rest of the extras are, an Interview with
cinematographer Henri Alekan, Notes by Francis Steegmuller, and
Notes from Cocteau.
This Criterion Collection release is a wonderful package, and is
a must have for any true classic or foreign film lover. If you
love the story of Beauty and the Beast, and want to see
a different, yet highly artistic adaptation of the tale, then
this is your best bet. However it should be known that this movie
is not for everyone. It is a 1940's French film, so you have to
know what you're getting into before watching it. That said, this
film is a wonderful window into the evolution of what we know the
story to be today. Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast
is unique, inspiring, and wonderfully executed. Recommended