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Beauty and the Beast

Warning: this page contains spoilers!

First, some background. Beauty and the Beast first came out at the cinema in about 1992, when I first went off to university. A few of my friends went off to see it, but I avoided it, since it was a U. This was just after I'd turned 18, and when I was at school the attitude was that you only wanted to watch films that were >= your current age, otherwise it looked like you couldn't handle sex/violence/whatever. So, going off to see a children's film would not be good for your image, and mine was bad enough already. However, university was a very liberating time for me, since I had no reputation there, so I could start from scratch. (There's another very long story there, which I won't go into now.) Anyway, I flourished in that environment, and became a lot more self-confident. A year or so later it was shown in the student cinema, so I went off to see it there, since by this time I was comfortable enough to select films and just ignore the rating - I was old enough to see any film I wanted, so I had nothing to prove. So, I saw the film, and I really liked it.

After that, it was been released on VHS, for a limited period of time (standard practice for Disney). It has also been put on as a stage show (musical), which I haven't seen - this added a new song ("Human Again"), which wasn't in the film. In April 2002, it was re-released at cinemas, in a re-mastered version, including some new scenes, and this song. I heard some adverts on the radio for the showings at the London IMAX, so I decided to go along.

Looking at the cinema, the first thing I should say is that they have very reasonable prices. It only cost £6 with my student card, which is about the going rate for a normal cinema. Then the screen. I knew, intellectually, that it was big. But until I saw it, I didn't realise just how big it was. Huge! When they showed the adverts at the start, they were intended for a normal sized cinema screen, so it was a bit like seeing a widescreen film on TV, where you have black bars at the top and bottom. In this case, you also had black bars down the left and right sides, so the actual picture only took up about the middle ninth of the screen. Then they showed a full screen trailer for an Antarctic film which is coming up soon. This had a bunch of guys (approx normal size) on an ice-floe at the bottom of the screen, and I was starting to get vertigo looking down on them. There was a brief demo showing off what the IMAX can do with pictures and sounds, which was quite impressive.

One caveat by the way - if you go, make sure you sit in the seat you've been assigned. When I got there, the cinema was about half-empty, but the person sitting next to my seat had put his coat there. I figured it would be better to sit somewhere else, rather than ask him to move it. This was partly because of when I went off to see a Star Trek film when I was younger. I sat in the seat that was on my ticket, which was next to a woman (we'd both gone on our own). It then turned out that we were about the only two people in the cinema, so I was probably breaking social rules by intruding on her personal space or whatever - it would have been better to sit somewhere else, since there were plenty of seats available. In this case, I sat across the aisle, thinking that I could always move if anyone claimed that seat. A bit later, a couple of people did turn up, who were supposed to sit there. I apologised, and went to move, but they said "Oh, no, that's fine. We'll just grab a couple of the other empty seats". At this point one of the usherettes came over and said that everyone had to sit in the right seats, so I moved over to where I should have been in the first place, although this was then a bit more awkward than doing it when I'd first arrived. Ah well, live and learn.

Anyway, onto the film itself. Short answer: I really enjoyed it. I was particularly moved by the scene where the Beast tells Belle to go to her father, as I was the last time I saw it. Mind you, some of my other reactions have changed since last time, for various reasons. The three near-identical women who make eyes at Gaston reminded me a lot of the Furies from Caritas ("Mmm...Angel!"), which is something I hadn't seen before (since the episode was only made recently). Also, Peter David's article about Belle's initial song did put it in a different light ("If Cruella DeVil sang about how provincial everyone was, she'd have been lynched").

More generally, when I saw the film before, I was empathising with Belle, since lots of the film is seen through her eyes. So I could see how she was upset by the Beast, and how his servants got frustrated with him, but he was something of a cipher - someone who had potential, but needed to be prodded into shape. This time around, I saw things from his perspective a lot more. He kept making an effort, then saying "Now what?!", since the other people weren't satisfied. And I think he was quite justified in being angry with Belle when she was in the forbidden room, since he was quite right - her clumsiness almost ruined his entire life, and she had no right to be in there.

There's a couple of areas that I personally wouldn't have focussed on, if I'd been making the film. E.g. the scene where the servants tell Belle that they have no purpose without a master, so she's doing them a favour by allowing them to wait on her hand and foot sounds a little odd. The new song was about the servants planning their lives after the spell was broken. This emphasised that the servants really were humans trapped, rather than clocks etc that had been brought to life. Thinking of what happened to Jessie (cowgirl) in Toy Story 2, it's quite impressive that they didn't all go completely insane...

Being more positive, I felt that the film gave a very mature view of relationships, particularly for Disney. Whereas other films have focussed on one key moment to base a marriage on, e.g. Snow White being kissed by the prince, this story was much more connected to the personalities of the people involved. Early on, Gaston tells Belle that all her dreams will come true, and she asks him what he knows of her dreams. This reminded me a lot of Bujold's novel A Civil Campaign, where Ekaterin says "Alexi Vormoncrief is not in love with me. He can't see far enough past the end of his own Vor nose to even know who or what I am. If you stuffed my clothes with straw and put a wig on top, he'd scarcely notice the change. He's just going through the motions supplied by his cultural programming."

Mind you, there was also some rather sardonic humour in there too. When the Beast was wondering what he could do for Belle, the clock replies "There are the usual things - flowers, chocolates, promises that you don't intend to keep..." I was amused by that, but I was surprised to see it. I did like the actual gift (the library) - this was another case where the IMAX came into its own, to emphasise that there really were a lot of books there. Even more than in the ICSF library! Another line I particularly liked: "We have exactly 12 hours, 36 minutes, and 53 seconds to create a spontaneous, romantic, delightful atmosphere!"

In October 2002, the film was released on DVD, so I bought a copy of that (the "Collector's Edition"). I've watched the whole film through again once, and watched selected songs a few more times. In particular, I like Jump 5's version of the main song; I didn't like it at first, but it's really grown on me (enough for me to subsequently buy all five of their albums). There are loads of extras on the DVDs, and I still haven't seen all of them yet. One interesting option is a "sing along track" - the idea is that whenever they have a song in the film, the words appear at the bottom of the screen for you to sing along. Karaoke! It was also interesting to compare the original version to the remastered version - I can definitely tell the difference, although it's hard to put into words. Basically, the colours in the original are more muted, and the edges aren't so sharp. It's a bit like the difference between watching something on TV that's been filmed in a studio, and watching an outside broadcast.

So, all in all, I give the film 5 stars, and the John Kirk seal of approval. And, since I mentioned it, I also strongly recommend A Civil Campaign. I borrowed a friend's copy in 2001, and since then I've read the entire Vorkosigan series. That novel in particular is essentially a romantic comedy in an SF setting. It also has some of the serious (genuine) aspects of the film, in terms of trying to work out what you want from relationships, and what other people want from you.

This page was last updated on 2005-06-05 by John C. Kirk

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