Thanks to the popularity of such criminally bad cinema as the Twilight series, the past few years have seen a rise of a new sub-genre of Teen films. Based on classic Gothic fairytales (or at least upon the mythical creatures of these stories) films like Red Riding Hood and Beastly have taken these age-old stories and transformed them into modern tales of angst-ridden teenage romance. Released yesterday on Blu-ray and DVD, Beastly is simply the next in this particular strand of cinema that will undoubtedly be around for a number of years…
Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is a rich, spoiled teenager, whose only cares in the world are his – self-described – dashing good looks and subsequent popularity. Running for Student Body President in his prep school elections, Kyle makes his feelings on looks patently clear, enraging Kendra (Mary Kate Olsen), the school ‘freak’ who’s Gothic wardrobe and facial tattoo cause the other students to consider her a witch. When Kendra publically humiliates him by defacing his election posters, Kyle decides it’s payback time. However, when his prank backfires he finds that Kendra’s retaliation involves placing a curse on him that turns him into a hideously disfigured beast. Learning that he has only a single year to find somebody who can utter the words I love you despite his appearance, he will remain a freak forever, Kyle slips into despair.
Forced into seclusion by his equally vain and self-absorbed father (Peter Krause), Kyle has only his maid Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor called Will (Neil Patrick Harris) for company. After months of depression, they manage to convince him to go out and find the special someone needed to break the curse. Deciding to seek out Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) – a student at his former school who he briefly noticed and chatted to before the transformation – Kyle seizes an opportunity to keep him with her when her drug-addicted father lands her in trouble with a local gang. Adopting the new name Hunter, Kyle tries to win Lindy’s love…but will he be able to before the spell is cast forever?
Having never viewed Twilight (or the multitude of similarly styled Gothic teen romances) I thought that Beastly might be lost on me. However, having a deep love for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (it’s the first Disney film I remember seeing at the cinema), I thought that I may be able to engage on some level… Whilst this is by no means an excellent film, or even of the same calibre as the Disney animation, I found myself rather entertained by this modernised take on the classic fairytale of vanity, ugliness and true beauty being on the inside. Whilst there wasn’t a singing cockney teapot or amorous French candlestick in sight, the familiar elements of the age-old story remain within the narrative and adapt well to their contemporary New York setting.
Beastly is actually much more than a simple teen romance or a vulgar re-imagining of a classic fairytale. Opening to the electro beats of Lady Gaga’s Vanity, a string sexualised advertising images that are supposed to reflect society’s idea of perfection flash across the screen. Kyle’s opening speech talks about how it’s the beautiful people in life who succeed, that they don’t even have to be intelligent, as their looks will see them through life. His father, Rob – a television news anchor – is similarly minded, a symbol of how by simply being physically attractive you can be successful financially and in popularity. However, the film displaces its own mantra in a number of ways. Firstly, Kyle’s dad is a terrible father, more wrapped up in his own appearance and suitably vain career than he is in his son’s wellbeing or happiness. Shipping Kyle off to a townhouse away from Manhattan after his transformation, Rob never visits his physically repulsive son. It’s also obvious in the fact that the films outwardly odd and ugly character, Kendra (played by former child sweetheart Mary Kate Olsen), is the only really interesting character. The glue that welds the story together, Kendra is a symbol self-expression and being who you want to be – a positive and important message for the hoards of teen audiences that flock to this sort of film.
Whilst the film is suitably clichéd and predictable in many ways it remains an enjoyable and engaging – albeit throwaway – watch. This is bolstered by some fine performances, primarily from the supporting characters. Whilst Alex Pettyfer is suitably full of teen angst as Kyle, his dramatic range is limited and he has played better in previous films. Vanessa Hudgens as his love interest has progressed from the dire High School Musical franchise, but her performance is not that accomplished and certainly not exceptional. Mary Kate Olsen appears to relish her role and pulls off both the unique wardrobe and make up to become comically malicious and about as camp as any fairytale villain (ironically though the villain is certainly the champion here, helping Kyle break free from his warped perception of beauty and the world).
The best performances come from Lisa Gay Hamilton and Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle’s staff. Both display a comic wit that breaks through the dark and brooding storylines, offering comic relief when the film begins to take itself too seriously. Hamilton is perfect as Kyle’s burgeoning conscience, a woman of grace and kindness that make her beautiful despite her dowdy appearance and working class status. Harris – who is blind – acts as Kyle’s sight, helping him see people for who they are, not just what they look like. With a satirical wit and an array of one-liners, Harris makes his character Will one of the most likeable within the film.
The visuals have transferred very well to the high definition Bluray release, something that is no massive surprise seeing it is a contemporary release. The film is afflicted with a certain amount of grain at times (close ups in particular for some reason), but this is not particularly course and doesn’t distract too much. The dark colour palette of the film looks sensational, with multi-tonal blacks and greys permeating through the sheen and gloss of the setting. Deep, inky blue-blacks and surgical, bright whites contrast with metallic greys and silvers to make a very urban colour palette that sparkles on the HD transfer.
The audio quality is exceptional, with multiple layers of sound remaining individually audible at the same time. For example, the whisperings of Kendra’s incantation and their accompanying sound effects can be heard, whilst audiences can also hear Kyle’s groans and moans, the sound effects of his transformation and the music track that highlights the whole sequence. Speakers are filled with a cacophony of sounds at multiple points, demonstrating just how powerful they really can be when put through their paces. The accompanying soundtrack is an eclectic mix of contemporary music, from hardcore R&B in a club to the more subtle and reflective tunes of Folk in the quieter scenes. The original compositions are full of mystery and magic, which helps heighten the overall tone of the film when they’re heard.
The special features are rather limited and consist of the following:
An Alternate Ending – this ending may actually be better than the one left in the final cut and is certainly worth checking out if you enjoy the film. Steer clear otherwise, as it’ll just be a waste of time…
Deleted Scenes – Consisting of a few extras scenes of Kyle venturing out after his transformation, these are nothing really that interesting and were understandably cut from the final film.
Music Video – This dire music video for atrocious teeny-bop song ‘Be Mine’, should be avoided at all costs!
A Classic Tale Retold – Basically constituting the Making Of documentary for Beastly, this is a brief look at how the classic characters from the original story were transported to a modern day situation. A relatively interesting watch, this isn’t for anyone other than those who enjoyed this re-imagining.
Creating the Perfect Beast – This is an interesting, if rather shallow, look at the special make up effects employed to transform Pettyfer into the beast as they are applied to him in the make up room.
Film: 3 out of 5
In no way perfect, this modern take on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast has more about it than many reviewers would claim. Whilst it entirely feeds into the current trend of gothic teen romances, it also promotes the central message that beauty can also be on the inside in an easily digestible way for contemporary teens audiences.
Visuals: 4 out of 5
Very little to complain about here: very little grain or interference of note and an expressively dark colour palette give the film a suitably gothic feel.
Audio: 4.5 out of 5
Love or hate the soundtrack, what matters is that it’s clear and crisp! As is the dialogue throughout and the other ambient sounds or special effects.
Extras: 2.5 out of 5
This small but interesting array of extras will entertain fans of the film. Those who aren’t won’t really find much joy here.
Presentation: 2 out of 5
The front cover certainly plays into the whole Twilight-esque, gothic teen romance thing, but then that’s exactly what Beastly is! Certainly aimed at getting teen girls swooning over the guy candy that is Alex Pettyfer, if you’re not someone who fits this bill then there’s nothing really here for you. Menus are similar, but even duller. They’re easy to navigate though, so that’s always a plus!
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Not quite as dire as many would have you believe, but definitely far more interesting to those with newly shining braces, bad acne and more teen angst than a therapist could handle, Beastly is only worth checking out if you enjoy your films cheesy (or like me, look for meaning when there probably isn’t really any!)…
Beastly is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.