Beautiful Creatures - Movie Tie-in Edition
Release date February 14, 2013
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis,
Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson
Alcon Entertainment/Warner Brothers
First, let me start out by saying I am deeply biased when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations, especially if I liked the book a lot, which I did in the case of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I tend to set my standards pretty low for book-to-film adaptations because I think there's so much print that needs to be reinterpreted to fit into a 2-hour audio-visual format; you will necessarily lose some things in translation, but gain others.
I'm even more biased when I know the authors. I was so thrilled years ago when the first book of the Caster Chronicles came out and Kami and Margie agreed to come and talk to a tiny book club we had gathered at Borders Glendale. We ate Milk Duds and popcorn and sat in a little circle beside a giant pile of books (which they graciously signed--and of which we sold every last copy). It's hard not to be biased when I have so many fond memories of talking to Kami and Margie and getting excited about how much their characters loved to read, talking about our favorite books, and brainstorming about how to engage readers. So I'm just warning you now, I was predisposed to like the film, because I loved the book, and this is why I say it's not really a movie review. I'm just gushing.
So, on to the movie.
The cast really holds up this film. I've lived in Los Angeles too long not to scrutinize things like sound design and sets, but give me a great, committed cast and I'm hooked no matter what. Viola Davis as the fierce and maternal Amma, Jeremy Irons as Lena's Uncle Macon who is a Dark-turned-Light Caster, and Emma Thompson as the fearful and possessed Mrs. Lincoln anchor the drama. Alice Englert makes a fine Lena Duchannes, but Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate is a real scene-stealer and my favorite by far--cheeky, sweet, and sincere. Thomas Mann, who plays Ethan's best friend, Link, isn't in there nearly enough, but he looks just about right. Those who haven't read the book might be a little confused by Emmy Rossum and her over-the-top costuming as Cousin Ridley. Don't worry--I read the books and I was a little confused, too. I think we either lost something in editing, or I might have been too preoccupied with Ehrenreich's charm and Thompson's balls-to-the-wall performance to figure out what the heck was happening in the movie theatre alley.
The other great gain in this project: LaGravenese's screenplay. I loved the dialogue and the pacing. Seriously, if they were to publish the screenplay I would buy it--there's so much to differentiate it from the source material. The adaptation brings the novel's themes to the fore, boiling it down to just the bones and the broth--the essence of the book with all the description stripped out and translated into what we see and hear. The film also seemed much more humorous than the book, a huge point in its favor.
Fans of the books might be disappointed at all the missing characters, particularly Ryan, Ridley's little sister who is a Thaumaturge or healer. I, however, felt all the omissions were necessary to keep the plot nice and tight--like Ethan's dad (Sir-not-appearing-in-this-film). Didn't miss him for a moment.
The only things that particularly annoyed me were the special effects: fake-looking vines or veins creeping up walls and across people's skin, fireballs exploding out of nowhere and just looking physically wrong, as well as the unsubtle amber eye-glow of the Dark Casters. I wish they'd toned down Dark-Lena's eye makeup and instead let (a probably very capable) Alice Englert emote the evil. Also, I loved Emmy Rossum's va-va-voom vampiness, but some of Ridley's costumes just seemed too trashy and desperate. I liked her yellow dress best, in the scene where she's claimed for the Dark--simultaneously conveying both her innocence and the loss of it.
There were a couple of music cues from the trailers that I wish had been in the film--or maybe they were and I was too busy swooning over Jeremy Irons?--anyway, it appears I'll have to do some research to figure out what they were.
All in all, I felt that the production captured the heart of the story, which is ultimately about change, choice, and the power of love. I liked the ending, but worry that its finality means there won't be more movies. I look forward to seeing Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in future films, regardless of whether they're for this franchise or not.
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Have you seen Beautiful Creatures? What did you think? No spoilers, please--leave a comment below.