Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Part 2

Previous post here. As for the bits of Beauty and the Beast that just didn’t work for me, I reckon the largest problem lied in its two lead characters.

Emma Watson as Belle is easy on the eyes, but it’s hard to shake off that brand name look she’s built for herself coming out of her long years as that insufferable know-it-all chao mugger from the Harry Potter films. As one Facebook friend quipped, the production felt like Hermione Granger decked out in a gown in a 2 hour long prom party. Watson’s emotional range felt stunted with little subtlety, a problem only exacerbated by how the cinematographer chose to put her face squarely in the frame for many shots.

In other spots, and maybe also because of her natural facial features, Watson’s efforts to show what should be half-smiles in a couple of scenes seems to come across as inappropriate smirks. Belle as a 1991 animated character was charming and endearing. Who can forget that cute line delivered in a Southern-like accent when she enters the bookshop “Have you got anything new?” You rooted for her, the village oddball. Watson’s Belle? Not nearly so much. Her response after she rejects Gaston first marriage proposal has her sounding mean-spirited, maybe even nasty.

And how about her singing? Well, it’s serviceable and – like Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables – Watson was able to hit the high notes in her numbers, though the pieces in the film aren’t really that technically challenging for trained singers to begin with. But Watson’s voice simply lacks the tonality and sparkle we heard in Paige O’Hara’s rendition of the character from the original film. For instance, just listen to how O’Hara weaves in a small sign of resignation in the line “Ev’ry morning just the same” in “Belle”, compare it to Watson, and you’d see what I mean.

Dan Steven’s Beast has far fewer sung numbers of note. Like Lumière/Cogsworth/Mrs. Potts , he exists only as a digital creation for most of the film. Unlike the household trio though, less money seemed to had been spent recreating the Beast than those three! The computer-generated Beast looks like it was done on the cheap by C performance grade interns. This computer-generated version of the character, and specifically his facial expressions, is without life and just bland. The general consensus among many IMDB reviewers too is that the digitally created Beast was just badly done.

This low fidelity of the digital creation might not normally had been a problem – were it not for the fact that Beast is the other titular character and is in the film a lot. I’m just not sure why Disney simply did (could?) not do this character properly, when films like King Kong since 2005 and 12 years older than this one were able to digitally create monstrous creatures that look more realistic than what we get here in 2017.

Luke Evans as Gaston blew his big number, “Gaston” – his voice is positively lightweight – but thankfully did better in the Mob Song. More seriously: Evans simply doesn’t have the necessary girth nor physical size to be intimidating. And the irony? One line in “Gaston” is where he sings “As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating!!” Nope sir, you were not in this film.

The sound engineer on this production seems to have been given a single directive: “Larger and more full-bodied orchestra than 1991? Checked! Now let’s blast out the audience’s eardrums!” I nearly lost my hearing from the film’s very high volume at Nex’s theater. I’m familiar with the sung pieces and know the lyrics from memory, but I reckon persons who’ve not seen the 1991 film would find it difficult to make out some of the sung words. Simply put: they got drown out by orchestral accompaniment. I initially thought this was just a characteristic of the audio set-up in the theater – until some IMDB reviewers posted to say they equally found it hard to make out the singing.

And lastly; the entire film felt overproduced, with the sheer abundance of not particularly well-done CG everywhere on screen only further reinforcing the fact that you’re watching something that was largely created in the computer, supposedly life-action or not. Maybe that’s why Watson looked so wooden for most of the film:  she was acting in response to green-screens. The most egregious example of this is “Be My Guest”, which is visually all over the place, nausea-inducing, and impossible to follow what’s going on in that dance number. Even Belle’s The Sound of Music moment in “Belle (Reprise)” where she sings “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” to the sights of a soaring Windows-like Vista wallpaper scenery has its suspension of disbelief demolished – it looks utterly fake with badly integrated CG backdrops with the live-character.

Lest it be finally concluded that I don’t think the film is any good- no again, I think this Beauty and the Beast is watchable. It’s just not nearly as good as the original 1991 film in my assessment. Kenneth Branagh’s recent Cinderella, also a life-action remake of the Disney animated film, has showed that it’s possible to bring up to date animated classics with life actors, and not make it look over-processed, with a score and recording that doesn’t overwhelm the senses. Time to buy the Blu-ray of this Cinderella for the kids and watch that instead!

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