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The Beach is too slick for its own good
by SFS Staff on Aug 20, 2004
With so much controversy surrounding this highly anticipated movie, it's hard not to let the rumors taint your perception. Supposedly the filmmakers busted onto a pristine Thai island and threw in some non-native vegetation, bulldozed some sand dunes, and created a stampede of voracious Leo Dicaprio worshipers. With that said, let's throw away the outside influences and just look at the film.
Unless you see Leo as the "soooo cute" teen dream he's been packaged as, or unless you just have an affinity for celluloid crap, there's nothing redeeming about Danny Boyle's criminally hackneyed version of Alex Garland's highly entertaining (but by no means "cult" masterpiece) novel. Boyle showed so much raw visual prowess with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting (both starring Ewan McGregor and written by John Hodge), but we should have seen the fall with their ridiculously limp attempt at comic caper, A Life Less Ordinary.
Boyle and Hodge, sans McGregor, have really outdone themselves this time. They've torn up the entire novel, discarded key characters, tossed in some obligatory (in Hollywood) love affairs, and the result reads like a suped-up, cool kid version of Saved By the Bell. Leo plays the lone-traveler (not tourist, mind you) Richard - a guy who gets his hand on a crude map to an Eden-like beach from a stoned head-case he meets on Kho San Road. After rounding up sexy young French couple, Etienne (Guillaume Canet) and his girlfriend, Richard's object of desire, Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen), the dreamy-looking trio embarks on a trek into the unknown. What they discover is an idealistic community of fellow travelers living in a sinister, seductive paradise.
There are always changes in a page to screen adaptation, and artists have license to interpret, but what Boyle and company have done with Garland's story goes beyond mere tweaking. One of the main themes of the novel is violence through cultural numbing - you know, seeing too many video games and cop shows can give you a deluded sense of reality. But what comes across as palpable on the page becomes a mess of misplaced, gratuitous visual metaphors on the screen. Boyle's optical dare-devilry worked in Trainspotting; even the plastic ceiling-baby seemed in step with the content and style of the film. But the sight of Leo inside a video game, running through the jungle inspires giggles instead of any sort of punctuation to the theme, and it makes you wish it was Ewan McGregor in the stupid scene anyway.
Watching Boyle's teeny-bopping ego trip gives you the feeling that the movie somehow is exactly what Garland's novel condemns: a loud, offensive, testosterone-fueled tourist in a day-glo hat.
1 hour 59 minutes
by SFS Staff on Aug 20, 2004