The first 10 or 15 minutes of Beastly are great. We’re introduced to Kyle (Alex Pettyfer), high school superstar running for the green club president. Kyle though, he doesn’t care about being green or the environment, just about looking good. His rally speech, taking place in an absurdly expensive high school with hundreds of adoring followers, shreds ugly people and their worthlessness. Suddenly, we’re in the territory of wonderfully absurd, exaggerated, and superficial stylings that pull high school movies apart from the inside out.
Then, it forgets it was ever funny, turning Kyle into a beast in this contemporary Beauty and the Beast. His father takes him to a single doctor who can’t fix his new facial “features,” and then locks him up. Just to note, adapting things like fairy tales in the modern day is a complex thing, and sending your kid off to live with the maid and his blind tutor probably constitutes child abuse, but whatever. The film is never smart enough to try that.
Instead, it’s romance time, because thanks to Twilight, every high school age girl these days has to fall for the werewolf, vampire, or the creepy guy with his jaw muscles showing. They have fun at the audience’s expense, laughing when we’re not, and the tonal shift is equal to that of the Grand Canyon’s expanse.
Whatever wit, energy, and sarcasm it lavished the viewer with earlier is gone, and we’re suddenly in a territory of time lapsed, seasonal romances. Beastly takes itself extraordinarily seriously, especially for a plot that is so utterly contrived it’s amazing anyone was bold enough to put it on paper.
Kyle, now transformed, just happens to be following Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) who is following her addict father. He owes someone money, and they’re holding him at gunpoint. In jumps Kyle, salvaging the situation, saving Lindy and her father. Unbelievably, Lindy’s father agrees to let this random stranger, metal sticking out of his face and all, take his teenager daughter to live with him to keep her safe. If it was child endangerment before when Kyle’s father stuck him in a house alone, who knows what laws Lindy’s dad just split clean in two.
Beastly is rather unremarkable to look at, a drab, dim film set mostly in the darkness as Kyle wallows in self pity. Thankfully, the black levels do their thing, keeping a firm grip on the material with plenty of attention to the depth and shadow detail. Outdoors, indoors, rooftops, or streets, blacks remain weighty.
There’s a definite reddish/orange push throughout, not detrimental to the skin tones, although certainly carrying some monochromatic qualities at times. It’s utterly amazing how many movies these days are lit by a single candle, Beastly joining the crowd. Prior to his transformation, colors remain bland, cooler without any real saturation to speak of. It’s a material driven palette.
Much of the film has a marginal softness to it, something that feels appropriate, not out of place. While it does hamper some of the finest detail, credit is due for the make-up job on Kyle. Even under the scrutiny of HD, his silicone skin looks totally lifelike, bending, folding, and revealing natural-looking pores. Other close-ups are “meh,” not to put too fine a point on it, a few stand-outs scattered about with irregularity.
Beastly doesn’t do much visually, which might account for this underwhelming appearance. The grain structure barely appears, the AVC compression enough to take it out of the frame without offensive qualities. Exteriors are few, and interiors simply are not lit enough to produce substantial definition. Bland, but not necessarily awful or anything less than what was intended.
Following in the visual footsteps, the DTS-HD track exists, deadened by sound design that never wants to do anything other than lay back and soak in the good life. That leaves the listener wanting and waiting for something to happen, the only flourish being a school dance at 11:58 that slams home some bass. Party goers cheer and chatter without too much aggression in the surrounds, leaving everything else to be picked up by the center.
This is simply lifeless, nothing really wrong with it, but never capitalizing on some opportunities for even basic ambiance. A zoo at night should have a few animal calls, and New York? Yeah, it’s loud. Cars, passer-bys, something should be kicking up in those rears. As it stands, nothing. Boring, even for such material that doesn’t necessarily open itself up to glorious HD surround sound.
An alternate ending is here to kick off the extras if you’re interested, followed by an additional three deleted scenes that near the five-minute mark. A Classic Tale Retold discusses the book and how the movie came to be, followed by Creating a Perfect Beast which details the make-up process. A music video and trailers are left.