Ugly and the Beast

A friend gave me a free ticket to see the live-action remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I am glad I spent not one penny.

It was an abomination from stem to stern.

It was terrible. Save your money. Buy whiskey. Get drunk instead. You will have more fun vomiting into a porcelain toilet than watching this.

Everything that could be wrong with this film is wrong, with the sole exception of the set design, make-up, and special effects.

So seeing this film, with its perfect attention to the visual details, was like seeing some draw the Mona Lisa, adding a perfectly well drawn and anatomically correct pustule-dripping sore to her lip, with a swollen louse or tick sucking at it.

But let us give credit where credit is due. The Disney miracle makers have not lost their ability to make something splendid looking, with an astonishing eye to detail.

So this is a amazingly well-drawn picture of a beautiful lady with an amazingly well-drawn pustule-dripping sore curling her lips and showing her diseased gums.

Really, really well-drawn.

Usually, when I see a film that is visually amazing and appallingly bad, I tell people to watch it in a language unknown with the subtitles turned off. That would not save this one: the expressions, gestures, and movements of the character were wrong (except for the special effects characters who were tools and furniture. Their acting skills were good.)

Nothing else was good.

The writers made one mistake in every single scene: they tried to be obvious and ham-fisted rather than let the story tell itself.

Characters that were well rounded in the original, here are flat cardboard, propped onstage to make a political point, not tell a tale.

Everything that in the original was of due proportion, here was dialed up to eleven, but at the same time made simplistic and stupid. It was not enough that Belle be bookish in a town that did not understand her, as in the original; here she is hated for daring to teach a little girl to read, she is a fighting visionary, but accused of witchcraft by the yokels. It was not enough that Gaston be selfish and vain. Moderns like the vices of selfishness and vanity. Here he is a murderer. And so on.

How bad was it? Let me count the ways.

First, everyone was miscast or misdirected. Not one or two parts. All but one were bad.

I say miscast or misdirected because I cannot tell if the actors and actresses cannot act well enough to portray who and what they were allegedly portraying, or if the director told them not to portray the characters convincingly.

Belle was an angry and independent modern woman, and never shown to be someone capable of falling in love based on something below surface appearances.

Maurice, the father, here is dignified and sober, hence never shown to be the lovable fool who needed Belle to care for him, and not someone anyone would believe was crazy.

This portrayal means he is not lovable, hence Belle’s offer to stay in his place and take his punishment had no motive.

But then again she does not make that offer. Instead, being a modern woman, she merely pushes him out of the jail cell with her brute strength. Why the Beast who was master of the house would allow this was unclear.

And then Maurice is dragged off, but no reason is given why he does not turn around and come back in. Since he is not foolish  in this version, but competent, his going for help is an unmotivated act, perhaps even cowardly.

Gaston here is not an alpha-male, handsome and strong and adored by the villagers, hence not someone they would follow into the enchanted castle of a beast. When they do, it is unmotivated.

He is also someone willing to murder his prospective father in law, which he was not in the original.

Since, as said above, the father is not a lovable fool in this version, there is no scene where Gaston attempts to blackmail Belle into marriage by threatening the father with the insane asylum: instead Gaston somehow arranges to have Maurice incarcerated in order to deflect the accusation of the attempted murder.  In this version, the asylum warden is not bribed and indeed is given no motive for abusing his powers and locking up an innocent man.

The townsfolk are just evil and want to see dignified Maurice locked up.

Le Fou was not loyal to Gaston, but was cast inexplicable into an adversarial role, first as his Jimminy Cricket warning him not to do bad things, later as an enemy.

Le Fou was the worst miscasting job. In the original, he is the Sancho Panza to Gaston’s Don Quixote, the Robin to his Batman. They are friends, and Le Fou is smitten with hero worship, which Gaston selfishly takes for granted. Here, Gaston is a bully, and Le Fou is a smirking, eye-rolling toff who makes sarcastic comments. There is no reason why the two of them would be drinking together, or even in the same town.

Lumiere is not rascally because Cogsworth is not pompous. Lumiere is not even a rascal in his affection for the French Maid, because here he is faithful and true. No doubt this is because they are a mixed-race couple.

When Cogsworth’s wife reappears in the final scene, he hate her clinging love for him. But they are both White and Old, so their marriage is funny and sucks. They added that little tidbit into a tale about the salvific power of true love.

Second, because everyone was miscast, and because the storyline was rewritten to rob the villains and heroes of any motivation, and because Belle is so independent and self-centered that she neither needs rescuing nor is likely to be the object of Gaston’s affection, consequently nothing in the plot seems organic.

Hence wooden puppet style characters go through the motions of doing things because they did them in the original plot, not because it made sense they would do them in this version.

In the original, the Beast, not Lumiere, offers Belle a fine room in which to stay rather than a cold jail cell, and invites her, albeit brusquely, to dinner. In this, Lumiere breaks her out of the cell without the master’s knowledge, so there is no moment where the Beast sees Belle weeping for her father, and no moment where he is touched and begins to feel compassion. Instead, his servants disobey him, and because of this, they let the girl roam free. Belle is not shown to be curious about the forbidden West Wing, and has no motive to go there.

The Beast has every reason to yell at her and at his servants, and no reason to feel any softer emotion, because nothing was set up. Nor has he acting in any way other than cruel to her.

So he yells. Belle, being a modern woman, is utterly brave, and so when the Beast shouts at her, her sudden fear that makes her flee the castle is not present. The action is unmotivated.

She is not the kind of sweet and lovely girl anyone would bother saving from wolves, so when the Beast runs after to save her, it was again unmotivated.

She is not shown having any heart or soul, so that when she is decides to help the wolf-torn Beast, the action is yet again unmotivated.

The Beast was spot on in some scenes, but he had no humor nor charm, hence was not someone who would have been willing to free Belle of her oath to stay at his castle in her father’s place: which is, by the way, an oath she never makes. Which makes the scene were he releases her from her promise unmotivated and senseless.

But since Belle is never shown to be the kind of girl who can keep a promise, or who thinks through anything she does, perhaps it was better she never made one. But it means her staying at the castle when she is not physically locked up unmotivated. One moment she is tying bedsheets together to climb out of a window, and the next she is joyfully listening to the song and dance set piece of dinner.

In the original, Gaston decides to kill the Beast out of jealousy once he realizes Belle cares for it: but in this, he starts shouting about evil magic, and makes no attempt to blackmail Belle into marriage, but decides to kill the Beast before he learns of his own motive.

Third, everyone hates everyone in this film.

Gaston is mean to the Bimbettes. The sheer wrongness and wrongheadedness of that is beyond measure. They, in turn, are drawn to look like the wicked stepsisters in CINDERELLA, not like the shallow but cheerful bimbos the plot and story needs to show that Gaston is a lady’s man.

In the original, Gaston was vain and selfish, but had reason to be vain, since he was handsome and strong and good at everything. In this version, he is merely a bully starring in an afterschool special public service announcement about standing up against bullies.

The townsfolk are mean to Belle and do not want her to teach other little girls to read, and so they throw her wet laundry into the mud.

In the real version, they are nice to her and lend her books, but no one understands her. In the real version, the practical peasants of the little village did not understand a dreamy girl who wondered about magic and far off places.

The line in song where they call her a beautiful but funny girl is kept, so the added element that they hate her because they are ignorant yokels while she is a smart and sophisticated city girl who brings change and progress makes no sense and is jarringly stupid.

Yes, there is actually a line about the fact that what they do not like in her is that she represent change and progress. Perhaps the writers thought no one has any motive for misunderstanding any other soul except for one: reactionaries and yokels hating change and progress. So they put in the one motive they know.

In this version, they hate her. Belle hates the village right back, and calls her life there lonely.

Since I hate her also, my sympathies are entirely with the villagers. I think there were two scenes were Belle did not have an impatient or angry scowl on her face, a look of bitterness and arrogance, but I cannot bring them to mind.

When Gaston goes to rescue the damsel in distress, instead of knocking a few heads together and getting everyone to be nice to Belle, he proposes and she angrily says she will never marry him, and instead of looking angry, he looks hurt and weak. Because no woman can ever be shown being in need of rescue.

Which is point four. It is allegedly a story about the salvific power of true love, but none of the female characters are remotely feminine.

Even the very short scene in the original when Le Fou is mugging the French Maid feather duster who is then rescued boldly by Lumiere the candlestick is dropped. Because no woman can ever be shown being in need of a man.

Nor shown as feminine. Belle was dressed in boots in nearly all her scenes, stomping around like Gaston with large and manly steps, and so when she appears in the ballroom scene in a gown, it merely looks absurd. She leads the dance about half the time, sort of a swing dance step. The Beast does get in a few waltz steps.

Fifth, the marvelous scene where the Beast, wanting to give her a gift, escorts her to a magnificent library is fumbled. He merely brings her in to show her a better book than the Shakespeare he had read, and she is stunned by the size. He grants it to her as a gift then, but, of course, now there is no forethought to it.

Sixth, the story apparently takes place in New Orleans or Algiers rather than France, since half the population is Franco-African. More than half the couples are mixed race couples. Which makes about as much sense as filming a remake of ZULU, and having half the tribesmen attacking Rourke’s Drift be Laplanders.

Seventh, Le Fou is made into the mascot gay man, and hence not portrayed as the henchman of a villain, but gives him wise advice throughout, and betrays Gaston at the end. Because it is illegal for a gay man to have any other personality aside from wise and insightful yet funny good guy.

There were new songs added, one of which I liked. The others were short or pointless or bland or all three.

Every other extra element, from the Enchantress walking into the room at the end, to the staff all turning into motionless items and dying, to the teleportation trip to Paris to see the fate of the missing mother, all were distractions or worse, things that took sense and momentum away from the plot, or muddied otherwise clear character motivations.

I wish I could write a witty or cruel denunciation of this appalling travesty of a film and make my complain funny and fun to read. I cannot.

The original was too good and too dear to me.

This politically-correctified version shows how few elements one needs to change on a masterpiece to make it into a trainwreck. Merely on pustulating sore and one bug on the lip can turn a beauty into an image of horror.

I hear that this film has been wildly successful at the box office. That tells us nothing flattering about the ticket buying public. In a more perfect world this would have bombed like the girl-remake of GHOSTBUSTERS crossed with JOHN CARTER, and animators and directors at Disney would have been forced to commit ritual suicide with a sharped mouse ear.

Instead, I am sure they will all be given raises, and put in command of the Star Wars and Marvel Comics franchises.

********************

I remember reading the last poem ever written by a Spartan. Long, long before the Battle of Leuctra, the Spartans gave up on the practice of writing plays and poems, and for centuries produced none. Likewise, there came a time when all innovations in the arts was halted in the Soviet Union, and, again, the making of religious statues in Byzantium or stained glass windows among the Puritans.

We have reached a time when the authorities frown on the products of a free and entertaining forms of art and story. Everything mus the politically correct. Only the approved moral of rightthink are allowed.

This is a major victory for the side of dullness, darkness, bad writing, and despair.

Popular entertainment, adieu! Nothing new will be written in our lifetimes, if the mavins of modern culture have their way.

There are plenty of books and comics from the 1930s to the 1960s to read, and plenty of films preserved from the black and white days.

 

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