After reading the manga, I was curious about the movie adaptation, mainly because Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, and Jeremy Irons were in it. (I’ve still never read the book, and I don’t plan to. Two versions of this story are enough.)
I could tell from the opening this was going to be a tough sell. I liked the idea of Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a young man too smart for his small Southern town, but his exaggerated accent voiceover at the beginning rang false and rough on my ear. The scenery is attractive, including the young people, but the rest of the film — including plot, pacing, and character interactions — is clunky and slow.
Alice Englert plays Lena, the literal girl of Ethan’s dreams. She’s new to town, the popular girls hate her, and she lives in the much-rumored creepy Ravenwood mansion. As IMDb puts it, “they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history, and their town”, a description I admire for its economy. It’s a “teen paranormal romance”, as you probably know, a gender-swapped Twilight where the guy is the normal human and the girl supernatural.
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures
The Ravenwoods turn out to be magic users, and Lena and Ethan have to fight her curse, due to arrive on her 16th birthday, to be together. The film’s two hours are a chore to get through, since so much feels overly familiar, as though I’ve seen the pieces before, done better. And there are a lot of pieces — the romance, two sets of family struggles, the gossip over an outsider, historical ghost flashbacks, wanting to grow out of a small town, feeling cursed by a legacy… with so much going on, you’d think the film would be more involving, but I kept checking the clock.
Jeremy Irons in Beautiful Creatures
Jeremy Irons, Lena’s uncle, has similar accent problems to Ethan (and shows up wearing a weirdly Oriental-influenced pajama set), which kept tossing me out of the mood of the film. It should be creepy and mysterious, not laughable and tiring. At times, I couldn’t even tell what the characters were supposed to be saying. At least with a DVD you can turn on the subtitles, although that seems excessive. This is also one of those films you need to watch with a finger on the volume control, since the level needed to hear some of the dialogue makes the sounds too loud on music or effect sequences.
Emma Thompson is the best thing in Beautiful Creatures
Emma Thompson shows up about 45 minutes in, and that snapped my attention back, as she plays a God-fearing bigot who wants Lena out of school as an evil influence. Then she gets possessed, and she gets even better. It’s also entertaining to watch the spinning dining room scene, the core of which was done as a practical effect on large turntables. Viola Davis sparks the scenes she’s in, as Ethan’s housekeeper/a mystic librarian. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these bits, too much of the maudlin romance, which is already a foregone conclusion. The trailer shows much of it to you.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with an UltraViolet copy and DVD. The behind-the-scenes special features on Blu-ray are:
- Book to Screen (4 minutes), where the cast and authors praise screenwriter and director Richard LaGravenese
- The Casters (3 1/2 minutes), explaining the magical characters
- Between Two Worlds (4 1/2 minutes), highlighting religion and magic in the characters
- Forbidden Romance (3 minutes), about the star-crossed lovers
- Alternate Worlds (5 minutes), discussing the special effects
- Beautiful Creatures: Designing the Costumes (4 minutes)
- 4 Deleted Scenes, a total of about 8 minutes
- Theatrical Trailers (for the film itself and a book)
Most are heavy on film clips and cast members summarizing the movie for us, standard electronic press kit filler. None of the first four provide any new information, except for the idea that these people thought the movie would be a success. The DVD has only the book trailer and deleted scenes. (The studio provided a review copy.)