Dir: Christophe Gans. France-Germany. 2014. 112mins

Beauty and the Beast 1

Christophe Gans’ version of Beauty And The Beast reconfigures the classic fairy tale on a gargantuan scale. Yet there’s not enough magic in this adaptation to take the saga beyond its automatic French and German audiences. This tame retelling of an oft-told much-filmed story is more Beauty than Beast. Shot in French and with green screens in the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin, Gans’s approach aims at a symphony of effects, hitting on some and missing on others. 

Gans makes the best of it with Seydoux, in close-ups by cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne that could fill any poster or glossy magazine cover, and in a red gown echoing Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes in the film’s second half.

He also deploys serious star power – Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux – yet French talent may not rally a global audience for a film that doesn’t charm or inspire beyond the pack of fairy tale movies.  The title (and the absence of sex) still ensures at least part of the tentpole home entertainment audience worldwide.  

The plot in this repackaging of the original tale by Madame de Villeneuve is as standard as much else here. After a ship founders on a green (screen) sea, a wealthy merchant (Andre Dussollier) is left in an isolated cottage with six hungry children, one of whom (a writer) goes deep into debt. The merchant visits the nearby castle lair of the Beast (a former prince) to plead his case, but earns condemnation for picking a red rose. When youngest daughter Belle (Seydoux) sets out to save him, she’s taken with the Beast (Cassel), and lingers at his lavish dinner table to learn more.

Gans structures his lean generic script (co-written with Sandra Vo-Anh) as parallel stories of Belle’s deepening bond with the Beast and the stalking of the Beast’s castle by a gang on horseback led by Perducas (Eduardo Noriega) that’s also shaking down indebted Maxime (Nicolas Gob)….perhaps in homage to the many such gangs in westerns? 

Seydoux glows with a fairy tale heroine’s wholesome radiance (a world away from blue hair) as she pursues the inscrutable Beast – inscrutable, in part, because Cassel’s costume and meticulously crafted mask don’t allow much room for his trademark sneer and raised eyebrows. That’s a lot to lose for a film that is marketing itself to an audience raised on cartoons. The green screen shooting approach makes Beauty And The Beast a movie of grand atmospherics styled by production designer Thierry Flamand rather than one of acting nuances.

Yet Gans makes the best of it with Seydoux, in close-ups by cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne that could fill any poster or glossy magazine cover, and in a red gown echoing Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes in the film’s second half (progressing through other colours until she’s robed in the tone of the rose at the core of the plot).  Few in the audience will remember the music by Pierre Adenot, yet many will exit “singing” the dress by Pierre-Yves Gayraud.

The acting in Beauty And The Beast is above average for a green screen film, in spite of targeting adolescents with the gesturalism of video games, where Gans has worked recently.

Yet gestures, the bigger the better, seem to be what Gans is seeking. Early on, as the merchant approaches the Beast’s castle, huge CGI stone figures rise out of the landscape in his defense, and they rise again when the gang of villains besieges the palace. As those titans defend the Beast from encroachment and tree roots spring from the ground to strangle interlopers, Gans’s fairy tale casts the earth itself as a vengeful force punishing those who do wrong – it’s fantasy ecology.   

In that ecology, odd too-cute spaniel-esque creatures called the Tadums run through the Beast’s castle in the film’s only cloying homage to Disney fairy tales.  And yet Gans pays no homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic of the same title, which favoured Beast over Beauty. His target audience won’t know it, and only critics will hold him to that standard.      

Gans first got wide attention in 2001 with The Brotherhood Of The Wolf (with Cassel and Monica Belucci), an enjoyably shameless stab at an un-French commercial blockbuster from France, brimming with violence, sex and period costumes. Much more French is this $45m budgeted Beauty And The Beast, and he has targeted the right family audience for a commercial payday, but perhaps still not made the right film to cash in.    

Production companies: Eskwad, Babelsberg Film, Potsdam,

TF1 Films Production, Boulogne Cedex, 120 Films  

International sales: Pathe International, www.pathe.com

Producers: Richard Grandpierre, Jerome Seydoux

Executive producer: Frederic Doniguian

Co-producers: Romain Le Grand, Henning Molfenter, Christoph Fisser, Charlie Woebcken

Screenplay: Christophe Gans, Sandra Vo-Anh, from a story by Madame de Villeneuve

Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne

Editor: Sebastien Prangere

Music: Pierre Adenot

Main cast: Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux, Andre Dussollier, Eduardo Noriega, Myriam Charleins, Audrey Lamy, Sara Giraudeau