Blue-ray Review ‘Beautiful Creatures’: When CG Isn’t A-OK

Beautiful CreaturesOK, I’m a name-dropper. Can’t help it — because some things need to be said.

In 2005 I had a lengthy interview with Steven Spielberg about his then-new film Minority Report. It was filled with special effects of the CG (computer generated) variety — effects which it needed, given the futuristic and technologically oriented story.

Yet still, I had mixed feelings about such effects in general, and I sensed Spielberg did too.

So I asked him: “If you’d had CG when you made Jaws in 1975 . . . ”

And he finished for me: “It wouldn’t have been as good.”

Film should leave something to the imagination. Film also shouldn’t be slavishly devoted to special effects, in mountain-climber parlance, “because they’re there.” Effects must serve a story, not be the story. And effects should avoid absurd extremes belonging in a Looney Tunes cartoon, or they distance the audience from a live-action narrative.

That brings us to Beautiful Creatures, a Twilight-pandering picture which actually opened far better than those slogging films. (It’s due Tuesday from Warner on a Blu-ray Combo Pack with DVD and digital download.)

I loved the first one-third, or 40 minutes, of the two-hour film. It told a grounded story about tentative young love in a hostile, small-town setting. The dialogue was strong. The cast performed well. I was sold. I was into it.

Then came the effects. Then came the sea of CG. And then it lost me.

But it wasn’t just the spinning dining room tables and other weird wonders. It was the sudden welding of too much back-story, too many characters and too many supernatural rules on the yarn of a young witch falling for a book-loving boy. In short, too much mythology stalled the impetus and smothered the human side.

I kept hoping it would get back to that story of romance and rebellion, but it never truly did. And while the film still was often entertaining on its own terms (with fun wicked spins by Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum), it wasn’t as strong as if it had been about the people, not the dazzle.

Plus, it didn’t help that Jeremy Irons gave one of the worst southern accents I’ve ever heard — if that’s even what it was supposed to be.

Look, I realize this is based on a book, and the book must be served. But films also must stand on their own — just as Spielberg’s Jaws did in altering Peter Benchley’s novel.

But Beautiful Creatures didn’t stand on its own, so much as its CG effects stood in for a story.

—  Bruce Westbrook

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