BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jul 25th, 2000 •

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20th-Century Fox Release.
Rated R. Running time: 112 minutes. Opening: Feb. 11 ’00.

Though released in February, THE BEACH is truly a “January” movie–the month studios usually dump their turkeys onto an unwary public. Not exactly a bomb, but close enough– unless you’re among the legion of fans besotted with Leonardo DiCaprio. The guy can act, as he amply showed in Gilbert Grape and This Boy’s Life, but with this demented script, he’s not given the chance to do much more than show his abs.

Plot: Richard (DiCaprio), a young American backpacker in Bangkok, gets a map of a secret paradise by Daffy, a deranged man who then promptly kills himself. So, in search of high adventure and with two new friends in tow, Richard hies off to this Shangri-La, filled with a gaggle of global groupies just as uninteresting and dull as he is. In between, he drinks snake blood, battles a baby shark and hangs out with the rest of the pack who don’t seem to have any vocation except, well, smoking pot, hanging out and making love. It’s every teenager’s fantasy. So who knows? Bad as it is, if you factor in the star’s titanic appeal to 13-year-old girls, 20th Century-Fox might yet recoup their investment (including Leo’s $20 million salary).

The premise of the film, one can suppose, is that after a while, “paradise” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be hellish– in this case, for the audience as well as inhabitants. If you can keep awake, you can’t help but notice how very derivative The Beach is to so many other features, in whole or part. To cite a few: Deerhunter (the Russian roulette scene), Lost Horizon (the lure and enchantment of Shangri-La), Blue Lagoon (young lovers on a deserted isle), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (the famous scene of the pair jumping off a high cliff to the waters below), and most especially, with its obvious comparison to Lord of the Flies (the breakdown of civilized behavior).

What’s sorely missing is any developed sense of the characters. Who are they? Except for their mutual desire for sex, pot and privacy, they’re all ciphers. Maybe that’s for the best. They’re not at all worth knowing. On the other hand, there’s plenty of extended, extensive close-ups of DiCaprio–and maybe, too, that’s the reason the film was made.

And now this is your editor writing, having watched the film on DVD, to see if anything can moderate Bobby’s pronouncement, as DVD releases so often do.

And the answer is – not really. Danny Boyle is a good filmmaker, and there are elements of Trainspotting here, particularly in the downward spiral of our protagonist in Act 3. On the commentary track he speaks engagingly, allowing time between each of his comments for us to reenter the narrative, which I liked. Several times he explains that scenes were deleted (and placed on the DVD’s extra material venue) for pacing and dramatic drive, both euphemisms for Ôthey made the film more leaden than it is now.’ A few of these are in the first act, which the DVD screening committee members found particularly unmotivated. For instance, there is an earlier scene with DeCaprio and the French couple, chatting over breakfast, which would have made his bursting in on them and proposing the journey a bit more logical than it is now.

Boyle discusses camerawork, the negative publicity the production received because of their treatment of the island they used (even though they restored it to its original state to the satisfaction of the Thai government), being offered a real marijuana field to use (which they declined, and grew a field of hemp). It’s a decent commentary overview, but doesn’t rescue the film, and frankly, none of the committee members wanted to see the deleted scenes. I think they felt they’d been through enough.

The image and sound are excellent, if you’re considering a purchase. And the film is a bit more cycnical and bleak than one sensed from the way it was reviewed in the mass press upon its opening. Makes one wonder how many of the critics made it to the end, since the idyllic hippie milieu of Act 2 is pretty much used as a set-up for the bad trip to come.

My favorite insight on the commentary track: Tilda Swinton is the self-appointed head of the secret society on ‘the beach’, and we all know what an odd-looking creature she is, one I’d like to see as Charles Dance’s wife in some surrealistic bit of casting some day. She’s also known to be exceedingly bright, and according to Boyle, she characterized her role in the film as a cross between Stalin and Aromatherapy. My admiration for her grows with each sound bite.

And a parting aside. One of the ‘undesirable’ hippie types who DeCaprio regrets letting in on his secret, in discussing the island, compares it to the urban legend of the Kentucky Fried Mouse, a famed anecdote passed around the Big Apple for decades concerning a patron at the fried chicken fast food emporium who was given the stiffened, deep fried body of a mouse that had fallen into the fryer. Well…I saw the actual Kentucky fried rodent. It was during a private tour of NYC’s morgue museum. Aisles of ceiling high shelves, stacked with trivia from the city’s forensic history – a tooth from the pilot who crashed his plane into the Empire State Building, etc. And there was the actual urban legend itself, sitting in formaldehyde for all to see who could gain entrance to this unique museum, which is not open to the public. I got in because of my friend ship with Sukey Raphael, the then Bat Lady of New York, who was donating a bat cadaver to the museum.

And just for your edification, there was nothing there belonging to John Dillinger…

Director: Danny Boyle.
Script by John Hodge,
adapted from novel by Alex Garland.
Photography: Darius Khondii;
Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo;
Original Music: Angelo Badalamenti.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Richard),
Tilda Swinton (Sal),
Virginia Ledoyen (Francoise),
Guillaume Canet (Etienne),
Staffan Kihlbom (Christo),
Robert Carlyle (Daffy),
Magnus Lindgren (Sten),
Victoria Smurfit (Weather Girl).

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