Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Beach: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - Innocence never lasts forever.

"Leonardo DiCaprio is electrifying" (David Sheehan, CBS-TV) in this adrenaline-drenched, tantalizingly seductive thriller from the director of Trainspotting.

Richard (DiCaprio), a young American backpacker, is willing to risk his life for just one thing: that mind-blowing rush you can only get from braving the ultimate adventure. But on a secret, deceptively perfect beach, Richard will discover that "heaven on earth" can instantly change into a jungle of seduction and danger.

Co-starring sexy newcomer Virginie Ledoyen, this "journey to the unexpected, full of surprises, twists and turns, love and romance, lust and desire" (Maris Sallas, GEMS) explores the hidden perils and dark places that lurk just beyond the shores of paradise…

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Staffan Kihlbom, Robert Carlyle
Box Office: Budget: $50 million. Opening Gross: $15.277 million. Gross: $39.778 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single side - dual layer; 30 chapters; rated R; 119 min.; $34.98; street date 7/25/00.
Supplements: Commentary by Director Danny Boyle; 9 Deleted Scenes; All Saints Music Video "Pure Shores"; Storyboard Gallery; Theatrical Trailers; TV Spots.
Purchase: DVD | Novel Alex Garland | Score soundtrack - Various Artists | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/B+

Since Titanic received such an insane amount of attention, it's amazing to think that Leonardo DiCaprio hadn't taken a leading role in a film since prior to that movie's success. He had a big part in The Man In the Iron Mask, but he made that movie before Titanic hit screens. He also appeared in Woody Allen's Celebrity, but that apparently was a minor role.

As such, The Beach represented Leo's first post-superstardom release. After all the hype, would he be able to remain atop the box office heap?

Apparently not, as The Beach came and went without much fuss. It took in a decidedly-underwhelming $39 million at the box office and disappeared unmourned. I didn't bother to see it theatrically and wasn't very excited about watching it on DVD, but I figured I'd give it a look.

As a whole, the film isn't bad, but it's nothing very interesting either. The story tells of Richard, an apparently disaffected young American tourist in Thailand who hears of a semi-mythical paradise from a very-crazed dude (Robert Carlyle as "Daffy"). Daffy presents Richard with a map to this eden and Richard eventually makes his way there, aided by French tourists Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillaume Canet).

Once they make it there, they discover a mini-commune is already in place, and the remainder of the film follows their adventures there. These parts should have provided the meat of the movie but as it was, I had a difficult time figuring out the point of the whole thing. I don't want to say too much about what occurs because it might spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that things go well for a while and then they don't. The Beach unabashedly rips off other sources.

Apocalypse Now is one very obvious source, as some scenes and themes directly echo that classic, but we also detect strong hints of Lord of the Flies, The Deer Hunter and other movies as well. Is this post-modern, referential filmmaking or is it just blatant thievery due to an absence of creativity? I don't know, but it doesn't work particularly well; mediocre, uninspired movies should never remind us of better pieces because they pale by comparison.

The Beach seems eager to make some profound statement of the nature of humankind (ala Lord of the Flies) but the message becomes very muddled and barely exists in the end. The most compelling aspects of the movie occur when we see how these shallow and self-indulgent young folk treat someone who becomes severely injured; it's not pleasant, but the film shies away from offering any sort of serious exploration of these concerns and just moves back to more hacky-sack.

As for Leo himself, he seems perfectly adequate in the role but that's about it. I've never developed a very strong opinion about him; he appears to have some talent, but he doesn't really appeal to me. Nothing in The Beach changed that sentiment. I found his work to be decent but unspectacular; Leo does nothing to hurt the movie, but he doesn't elevate it either.

Ultimately, The Beach is a watchable but forgettable piece. The film has some moments, and it also had the potential to be more stimulating and compelling, but it falls short of those goals and functions best as a lovely travelogue.

The DVD:

The beach appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one would expect of a very recent movie, the picture looks very good, with only a few minor defects.

Sharpness generally appears nicely crisp and detailed, as most scenes are clear and accurate. Some softness affects a few wide shots, but this isn't a frequent occurrence. Moiré effects and jagged edges seemed absent, though I saw occasional artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws also seemed minor; I witnessed a nick here or a speckle there, but nothing more significant.

Colors looked nicely rich and realistic, with no problems related to them; even during a scene that featured pretty intense red lighting, I noticed no concerns in regard to bleeding or distortion. Black levels seemed adequately dark, but shadow detail was a concern; many low-light segments occur, and I thought these tended to appear slightly too thick and opaque. They remain watchable, but I felt they should have been a little lighter. ("Day for night" photography has improved over the years, but it still causes problems.) In any case, I found the picture of The Beach to be a generally satisfying viewing experience.

Also very good is the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield offers a lot of strong ambient sound that created a nice atmosphere. The most important parts of the audio stick to the forward channels, which present a broad environment that seems convincingly real. The surrounds mainly present the music and ambient effects, but they can kick in pretty strongly in both regards; the songs often fill all five channels, and many instances - especially in mainland Thailand or during storms - make excellent use of the rear speakers. Some of the best segments happen during the "Colonel Kurtz" bits toward the end of the film; as Richard descends into madness, the mix takes us along with him through unusual use of audio.

Quality seems terrific. Dialogue always appeared warm and natural and displayed no intelligibility problems or distortion. Effects were extremely clear and accurate; they also showed no evidence of edginess or problems. The music sounded bright and crisp, with clean highs and some deep bass. All in all, it's a very fine soundtrack that helps make the movie more involving.

The Beach doesn't include enough extras to live up to the high standards set by some other DVDs from Fox, but it's a pretty nice package nonetheless. First up is an audio commentary from director Danny Boyle. This track suffers from too many empty spots, but otherwise Boyle presents a lot of good information about the film. He discusses various factors that affected the production - including a controversy about their affect on the native environment - and also mentions a lot of changes between the picture and the book.

The DVD includes nine deleted scenes, which total about 25 and a half minutes of running time; the segments last between 35 seconds and six minutes. These clips can be viewed with or without Boyle's commentary. Although I didn't find many of the scenes very interesting, I thought they made a nice addition to the package. Boyle's remarks seemed especially valuable as he discussed why the pieces didn't make the cut.

"Cast and Crew" provides biographies for seven actors and nine crew members, though three of the latter - director Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald - are included in the same entry, since they've worked together so much. These text bios vary in depth but are generally decent though unspectacular.

A "Storyboards" section offers 115 screens worth of materials. 112 of those screens include two boards apiece, while the final three have only one on each. Six scenes from the movie are covered. I don't much care for storyboards, but I'm happy they were put on the DVD; the more the merrier! However, I didn't care for the presentation; the two boards per screen method made them too small, especially since there's excessive "headroom" at the top and bottom. As they currently appear, the boards are watchable but I'd have liked them more if they'd been bigger.

An extremely puffy featurette appear on the DVD. This piece runs for five minutes, 40 seconds and is pretty useless except for one very nice bikini shot of Ledoyen. Otherwise, it's a waste; it's just the usual "this movie rocks" blather.

Speaking of drab promotional materials, we get an All Saints music video for their song "Pure Shores". This looks artsier than most but sticks to the tried and true lip-synch/film clip combination. The song itself is bland, and the video offers nothing of interest. More musical promotion appears in the "promo spot", a 30-second piece that touts the film's soundtrack.

A slew of other advertisements appear in the "Trailers and TV spots" area. There we find four trailers (one teaser, three theatrical clips) and a whopping 10 TV ads. Obviously the inclusion of so many segments becomes a bit redundant, but I never complain about too much material on a DVD, so I won't start now. In any case, it's neat to see the various ways studios promote their films.

One last note: after the usual (and unfortunately unskippable) copyright warnings at the start of the first DVD, we encounter a promo for "Fox DVD". This combines a large variety of brief clips from Fox films, both those already available on disc and those still in theaters as I write this (such as X-Men and Me, Myself and Irene). It essentially tells us how wonderful Fox DVDs are as it covers a slew of different features we find on them. The ad runs for about two minutes and 10 seconds and can easily be skipped with your remote. I don't mention this piece because it bothered me, because it didn't; no, I felt compelled to comment upon it because similar ads found on Disney-distributed releases have cheesed off so many people, and I thought that those concerned about such promotions should know that Fox has one as well.

In a not-so-bright career choice, Leonardo DiCaprio kept his legions of teenage female fans waiting more than two years for his official follow-up to Titanic and then returned with a semi-clunker in the form of The Beach. If he'd struck while the iron was hot, I could understand this weak offering, but to take off so much time and then come back with a dud is not a good thing. The Beach actually isn't a terrible movie, but it seems very mediocre and bland; I enjoyed it to a slight degree but that's about it. The DVD provides very good picture and sound plus a nice complement of extras. Die-hard fans of Leo may want to give this one a look, but everyone else should probably pass on it.

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