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The Beach: Special Edition

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Lesoyen
and Robert Carlyle

Directed by Danny Boyle

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

The great thing about DVDs, at least for the studios, is that they make even marginal movies suddenly seem more interesting. Maybe only slightly more interesting, but at least better than they seemed in the movie theater. Danny Boyle's The Beach is one of this phenomenon's beneficiaries.

With its extras, its commentaries, and its gorgeous transfer, The Beach takes on an interest that it didn't have in 1999 as a rather lame eco-thriller and post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio film. In the theaters, this $50 million Fox film ($20 million of which went to DiCaprio alone) only made $39 million. It's not exactly an iconic movie for the new century, but it does have its constituency, either among Leo's fans, ecology buffs, or students of Danny Boyle and the new Scottish cinema.

Regrettably, that's the only real interest the film generates. How did Danny Boyle & Co. go from bright lights of the British Cinema with the Coen-inspired Shallow Grave and the Scorsese-derivative Trainspotting to dim-bulb Hollywood sellouts? The answer can probably be found in A Life Less Ordinary, their previous film. This misguided, goofy cross between a teen comedy and existentialist allegory was such a flop in 1997 ($12 million budget, $4 million take) that the boys (Boyle, his writer John Hodge, and producer Andrew MacDonald) were perhaps shaken up a little and thus decided to switch from self-generated tales to full-blown Hollywood prestige adaptations of novels — in this case, the successful pop-novel by Alex Garland (son of the British political cartoonist). Financially and esthetically, Boyle & Co. raised the stakes but lost the bet.

Richard (DiCaprio) is the narrator of this tale. Bored with his middle-class American life (he's British in the novel), he becomes a "traveler." Travelers are better than tourists, you see, for they truly look at the country they are in, and they don't take photos or wear loud shirts. They try to get into the vibe of the locals, which is where Richard gets in trouble. Stumbling upon a map for an island paradise near Thailand, he convinces two fellow travelers (Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet) to help him find it, primarily because he wants to have sex with Ledoyen's character. But along the way, Richard makes the mistake of showing the map to some other pot-smoking travelers and then lying about it. When they make it to the island paradise, run by Sal (Tilda Swinton), he is caught out in the lie, which has disastrous consequences. The paradise they find turns grim, and for a long period toward the end of the film, Richard lives on the edge of both civilization and madness, much like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (an analogy that many other reviewers have made, probably because an excerpt from Coppola's film is included here just to underscore the point). They all end up leaving the island, but also end up taking a picture, too, just like regular tourists. It turns out that such pix are good to have.

Perhaps most interesting about Fox's DVD edition of The Beach is that it shows how many mistakes Boyle made during the editing stage of the film's production. Almost all the deleted scenes gathered on this special edition flesh out the movie's characters and plot, give the story more clarity, and improve both the introduction and conclusion. Boyle's audio commentary during the deleted scenes is a sad chronicle of bowing to corporate pressure, of a filmmaker submitting to the commercial exigencies of rigid running times. This is why extra features are one of the minor, educational joys of DVDs. Mistakes are almost rectified, qualifications are made, directors can explain themselves and plead mea culpas. Boyle's agony is more entertaining than the movie. And informative.

Box-office bomb or not, Fox has gone all out with The Beach: Special Edition. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is very clean and lush, as befits a recent movie that takes place in a tropical paradise. The audio is excellent, in both English Dolby Digital 5.1, and French Dolby 2.0 Surround, also with English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include the already mentioned Boyle commentary track, nine deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) with commentary; a music video; storyboards; and trailers and TV spots. Keep-case.

— D. K. Holm

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