Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beautiful Creatures (12A)

One of the things I love about the entertainment industry - and the film industry in particular - is the fact that original ideas are happily eschewed in favour of milking an established cash cow.

Why risk a new thing that might be shit, right?

The Beatles are from Liverpool? Quick, sign more Liverpool bands. And Cilla.

People like watching celebrities? Quick, chuck a load in a swimming pool.

People like supernatural/magical vampirey stuff? Quick, step right this way...

But first, let me be fair here. I am neither female nor 14, so odds on I'm not the target audience here. I have read half a Twilight book (and managed quite a decent distance when lobbing it away in disgust as Bella went from feisty independent girlie to swooney simperer) and watched three of the films, though, so I am aware of the universe writer/director Richard LaGravenese is aiming at with Beautiful Creatures.

It just would have been nice if he'd maybe been a little less aware, or made more of an effort to distance himself from it.

For those of you who haven't read the popular books, the story centres around Lena Duchannes (played by Alice Englert) and her beau/Southern Gentleman/boyfriend/puppydog Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich). She's a caster (NOT witch), he's a bookish, non-jock sort who yearns to read his Bukowski books somewhere other than Gatlin, South Carolina.

The rest of the town are bible-bashing bigots who hate change and Lena's whole family. And books. They ban books for fun in this town.

From Lena's arrival, it's a faux Romeo And Juliet rom-com, with spells, the individual triumphing over the small-minded collective and positive messages of love and sacrifice. Not celibacy, you'll notice. They've left that to the Twilight world.

Which is all fine and dandy. That's all good stuff, all standard fair that has been hashed and rehashed on the small and big screen to great success. It just doesn't seem enough.

The performances are great - nothing wrong in that department. Ehrenreich and Englert are good together (even if she does have something of the Bellas about her), and the fellow pupils convince as the bitches and nerds they are.

And the adults are given space to shine too. Issues with why three stalwarts of the British acting establishment were needed to trot out questionable Southern accents aside, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons (never one to turn down a fantasy flick) and Eileen Atkins all excel. Thompson in particular seems to revel in the evil mother role, switching between humour and drama with consummate ease.
Sure Irons is coasting, but even with minimal effort he manages to convey the requisite amount of malevolence as Lena's uncle - recluse, owner of half the town, and man with skeletons in many a cupboard.

And the film looks stunning. Exquisitely shot, the scenes look both lush and dramatic, keeping you awash in a warm glow as the action unfolds.

But that's it. Like fine bone china, it may look lovely but you can see right through it. There's no depth, no density.

As the story races along to its conclusion, as Lena faces the trauma of her 16th birthday - being chosen for either the Light or the Dark - it's a bit hard to give a toss.

As a reading experience, I'm sure fans of the series will happily extol the virtues of the characters, sparky dialogue (some examples of which can be found here) and wholesome messages. It's clearly held its own among the Twilights and True Bloods of this (and the other) world, so that clearly speaks for itself.

Sadly it just doesn't translate to the screen.

It doesn't help that they've gone for a girl who looks not dissimilar to Kristen Stewart. Better actor, sure, and she smiles, but the casting director knew what they were doing. And it doesn't help that a lot is made of the fact Lena is charging headlong towards her 16th birthday, because there is a moment when you sit bolt upright. knowing they shouldn't be doing what they're doing.

I'm sure fans of the book will love it, and young fans of this much-mined genre will find another franchise to wallow in - and that's cool.

But for me, it's a bit too Twi-lite.

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