Beauty and the Beast (2009)

Rating:

USA/Australia. 2009.

Crew

Director – David Lister, Screenplay – Gavin Scott, Producers – Dale Bradley, Grant Bradley, Dana Dubovsky, Mark L. Lester & Richard Stewart, Photography – Nino Martinetti, Music – Garry McDonald & Lawrence Stone, Special Effects Supervisor – Clint Ingram, Makeup Design – Sharon Robbins, Production Design – Michelle Sotheren. Production Company – America World Pictures/Limelight International/Gold Rush Entertainment/Focus Pacific/The Pacific Film and Television Commission

Cast

Estella Warren (Bella), Victor Parascos (The Beast/Prince Maximilian), Rhett Giles (Count Rudolph), Vanessa Gray (Lady Helen of Osberg), Tony Bellette (Sheriff Otto), Alex Kuzelicki (Troll), Chris Betts (Captain), Gabriella Dilabio (Anna), Nicholas G. Cooper (Duke Henry), Damien Garvey (Dr Thorne)


Plot

King Maximilian XIII is dying and there is in-fighting amongst his relatives as to who will be his heir. The ruthless Count Rudolph eliminates the other contenders to align himself in position. The washerwoman’s daughter Bella is in the woods looking for herbs when the legendary beast that is said to haunt the area appears and shoots an arrow to kill a wolf that is about to attack her. When Count Rudolph hears Bella’s story, he makes her accompany him on a hunt for the Beast. The witch Lady Helen approaches Rudolph and offers to make him king if he will take her as his consort. She raises a troll by means magical and sends it to slaughter people in the village. The Beast is blamed for the killings. Bella determines to investigate, following clues to find The Beast in the forest. She realises that it is human and sensitive but has a hideous face, which it hides from the villagers. It denies all knowledge of the killings. Rudolph and Helen conduct further killings and seek to have The Beast blamed and then executed for these.


Beauty and the Beast was one of a series of adaptations of classic fairytales that have been conducted for the Syfy Channel wherein the familiar story was given a modern spin. Others amid this fad included Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010) based on Little Red Riding Hood, Sinbad and the Minotaur (2010), and Witchslayer Gretl (2012) based on Hansel and Gretel.

As with most of these other fairytale adaptations, the basic premise has been to turn the original into a fantasy adventure a la likes of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Thus in this interpretation, Beauty and the Beast goes from a fairytale about the love of a virtuous heroine transforming a man cursed to a beast-like appearance into an adventure with Beauty as a kick-ass heroine who runs around the kingdom accompanied by the Beast as they try to defeat an evil lord and a witch who has raised a goblin to kill people. In many ways, this is not too much of a stretch from the tv series Beauty and the Beast (1987-90), which transformed the relationship between the two into a partnership as they underwent weekly adventures.

This is the germ of an interesting idea here, although Beauty and the Beast 2009 does a poor job of conducting it. The promo for the film tries to make it sound like one of the modern adult fairytale adaptations – see Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), Red Riding Hood (2011), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) – but this immediately falls down the moment one starts watching Beauty and the Beast. The entire production has been shot in Australia as cheaply as possible – the village where a substantial part of the action takes place looks as though only two buildings were constructed, for instance. The visual effects are poor. The adventuring that goes on is written in a desultory way that translates as merely plodding.

Beauty has now been transformed into a modern girl. No problem with this, excepting that the film’s conception of Beauty is to promptly put her into a leather bustier and mini-skirt and have her run around kicking the ass of the count’s soldiery (in fact, regularly defeating them despite the fact that they are armed and armoured and she comes without the use of any weapons or protection excepting her ability to create herbal smoke bombs). The part of Beauty is cast with Canadian swimmer/model Estella Warren whose greatest role up to this point was as the human love interest in Planet of the Apes (2001). In Estella Warren’s interpretation, Beauty is no weeping willow but comes with the sunny disposition of a California beach girl. It does seem a difficult swallow to reconcile this with the image of the peasant girl that the script writes Beauty as being.

The best performance in the film comes from Australian actor Rhett Giles who plays with an intent seriousness and panache that is determined to write bad boy villainy across the film, even if in the end he comes across as trying to channel Russell Crowe. On the other hand, fellow Australian Vanessa Gray plays the role of the witch with a breathy campiness that is tiresomely one-dimensional.

Other versions of Beauty and the Beast include:– several lost silent versions made variously in 1899, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1912, 1913 and 1922; Jean Cocteau’s classic version Beauty and the Beast (1946) with Jean Marais and Josette Day; the stodgy Technicolor adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1961) starring Mark Damon and Joyce Taylor; Beauty and the Beast (1976), a tv movie adaptation starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere; a Czech adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1979); a 1984 episode of Shelley Duval’s Faerie Tale Theater starring Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon and directed by Roger Vadim; the Cannon Movie Tales adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1987) with John Savage and Rebecca De Mornay; Beauty and the Beast (1991), the Disney animated adaptation; Beauty (2004) starring Martin Clunes and Sienna Guillory, a modernised retelling; Beastly (2011) starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens, which transplanted the fairytale into a modern high school setting; the tv movie Beauty and the Beast (2012) starring Ruith Bradley; Christophe Gans’ exquisitely dreamy Beauty and the Beast (2014) with Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel; and Beauty and the Beast (2017). the live-action remake of the Disney film starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Beauty and the Beast (1987-90) was a fantastical contemporary urban tv series loosely based on the fairy-tale, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, and was later remade as Beauty and the Beast (2012-6) starring Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan.



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