The Beach

The Beach (2000)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Music Video, Storyborads, Trailers and TV Spots

I had no idea what expect when I first saw "The Beach, " 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s latest DVD outing. From the trailers I had seen before, it almost seemed like a romantic movie down the lines of "Blue Lagoon, " but somehow the darker note of the trailer didn’t feel right with that notion. Either way, when I watched the movie, I soon learned that the film is more of an edgy action adventure in front of a very scenic backdrop.

Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) is making an extended vacation in Asia. A backpacker living out pop-culture, Richard is still trying to find his place in life when one night in Bangkok his next door hotel neighbor (Robert Carlyle) tells him about a remote island with the most beautiful beach in the world that no one really knew about. The next morning Richard finds his neighbor in his own blood from committing suicide and with the body he finds the map to the island he talked about.

Intrigued Richard decides to ask a young couple he met recently to join him on his quest to find that mythical island and with it the perfect beach. Together the three set out for paradise and soon they actually find that exotic dream location. But as they begin exploring the island the find out that this tropical paradise has more inhabitants than they thought, and that not everything is well in paradise.

Given the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio has moved into the heartthrob realms since "Titanic," expectations are very high for "The Beach," and while he does a good job playing Richard, I have seen him play better parts – "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" being only one of them. Nonetheless, bare-chested for the majority of the film, I am sure his female fans won’t be disappointed by this movie, while guys will probably enjoy it more for its darker qualities.

Screenwriting in the classic sense demands from writers to create situations where character motivations and thoughts become obvious as you allow the audience to observe the character’s behavior. They usually define themselves through their actions rather than what they say, and off-screen narration has been a taboo for the longest time. All that seems to have changed and there seems to be this trend in Hollywood currently that every "hip" film uses monotonous narration to open the movie, and in many instances even to explain events while the story evolves. "Fight Club" and "Boiler Room" are only two examples that come to mind immediately, and "The Beach" is another one. I am not sure what is happening, as the narration is usually both boring and rather non-descriptive, and most of the events could just as well be explained in a more cinematic way.

While the narration works in some films, it doesn’t in others, and sadly I have to admit, "The Beach" falls into the latter category. The narration breaks the movie’s flow and pulls the viewer out of the experience every time it occurs. The feeling is enhanced by some of the completely illogical behavior of the characters, which is not rationalized through narration, although it could have used some explanation. I just don’t believe that someone would take the risk to swim a mile completely unprepared, just to see the world’s greatest beach, and ends up on a remote island without even a knife to cut through the jungle. Dumb was the word that came to my mind while I watched the three kids try to make their way to the island. But fortunately the film compensates for that with a quick change in pace only a few minutes later and a story that takes on a very unexpected twist from there. It also features a lot of intriguing situations and elements that keep the viewer glued to the screen basking in the exotic beauty of the island.

However, not all is bad about this film. It is a very exciting thrill ride that keeps the viewer interested and intrigued about the outcome of events. The paradise is so beautiful, it ultimately has to come down – the question is only, how? In beautiful pictures the film tells this story of a paradise lost, the slowly turns into a brooding place in which the perils outside are almost as dangerous as the demons inside. Especially when Richard’s notoriety for computer games and war movies breaks through in a number of very imaginative scenes, the film definitely takes a turn for the intense, and you just never know what will happen next.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting "The Beach" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in the movie’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Since the film is brand new, the source from which the transfer was struck is of pristine quality, giving us a picture that is devoid of any defects or blemishes of any sort. The transfer has a very high level of detail and the color reproduction is spectacular. Since much of the film is playing on the paradise island that presents itself with a profoundly lush vegetation, the strong color reproduction helps to make this movie spectacular to watch. The greens and the turquoise of the sea, combined with fully saturated blues and absolutely natural fleshtones, make "The Beach" a reference quality transfer. The shadows are deep and solid, with good black level, and the highlights are strong, yet never over-exposed or glaring. The compression has been done meticulously and no compression artifacts are visible in the presentation.

The DVD contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that is complemented by <$DS,Dolby surround> tracks in English and French. Especially the <$5.1,5.1 mix> is very nice and creates a rich ambience for the movie. The liveliness of the forests, the splashing of the water, the crickets, everything is there and it has been mixed to create an enveloping environment that is rather subtle, yet absolutely natural and dimensional. The track has a great bass extension with good low end response. The high end is very clear without distortion or sibilance, and dialogues are well integrated. The mix always keeps dialogues at a very understandable level and integrates them well with the ambient sound effects without ever drowning out lines. The movie’s music score, composed by Angelo Bandalamenti, is also very spacious, yet also very taut in moments of danger, mostly in the latter part of the film. The composition sues some great motives to capture the idyllic setting and manages to inflect some of the darker elements almost unnoticeably at times to foreshadows things to come.

You can also find an audio <$commentary,commentary track> by director Danny Boyle on this DVD. The commentary is usually rather non-technical in its approach – only on very select occasions Boyle discusses how he created certain shots – but rather puts down his interpretation of the story, accompanies by a long string of memories, anecdotes and information about the shoot itself.

The release is rounded off with a series of deleted scenes. They are a mixed bag actually. While some of the did go for obvious reasons, there quite a few amusing moments in there what would have made a great addition to the film. The "Breakfast" scene with the noise reference is very funny, but the rest of the scene just doesn’t work too well, which probably caused it to be cut. They are all well worth a look and an alternate opening, as well as an alternate ending are also part of this section on the DVD.

A storyboard gallery can also be found on the disc, but unfortunately the images are rather small making it somewhat hard to read the comments on them. A music video, trailers, promo spots and TV spots can also be found on the release, as well as a short featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage and cast & crew interviews.

One word about the menu system on this disc. I think Fox did a great job in creating a user interface that is intriguing and beautiful to look at, yet is at the same highly functional. The most promising feature is the fact that you can access every menu screen from every other one. You do not have to return to the main menu for example, if you wish to go from the scene selections to the special features, as there is a direct link to all other menus in every one of the individual menu screens.

"The Beach" is an enjoyable movie that contains some mesmerizing nature images that bring this island paradise to life. It is well acted and the story has some exciting twists that keep the viewer always on guard. And still, while the viewer is focussing on one thing, suddenly the plot takes a wicked turn and introduces on event that makes everything that was so important before, almost irrelevant. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is on the best way to become a leader in the DVD field. Every one of their recent release is not only of the highest technical quality but also very well thought out and designed. The slick menu is just another example on this DVD how some new ideas can go a long way and make a very good product another notch better. Leo fans will have to have this disc, no doubt, but also if you’re interested in watching an adventure that is fierce and not nearly as sunny and carefree as it may initially seem, you may want to give this DVD a check-up.