Directed By Danny Boyle
20th Century Fox
By: Eric G.
The problem with The Beach is that it shouldn’t have been made into a movie at all. On paper it probably looked like a great idea: Leonardo DiCaprio frolicking on a tropical island with an hot young French girl, but Alex Garland’s fast-paced first novel gets too far into its main character’s head to lend itself well to interpretation on the big screen. There’s plenty of action in the book, sure, but that’s not the crux of the story. Garland builds tension through the demoralization of the island’s inhabitants, a group of burnout travelers in search of an Utopian paradise. Things go awry when the travelers can’t completely abandon the technological world of which they are products. The film version of The Beach fails because it tries to make those few climactic scenes from the book serve as the main plot, sacrificing almost all of Garland’s insight and taut narration.
To compensate for Garland’s first person narrative, director Danny Boyle relies heavily on voice-overs, which rarely translate well on screen and come across here as ineffective and flippant. We never connect with Richard the way we do in the book, but Leonardo DiCaprio does fine with what he’s given. A lot of people were nervous that DiCaprio’s presence would make the film cheesy when he’s the least of your worries; the script is the real criminal here. Screenwriter John Hodge, takes enormous liberties with Garland’s plot, making the film a distant cousin to the actual novel. He injects more action, sex, and backstabbing to commercialize the film’s appeal. Consequently, DiCaprio has a lively sex scene with French actress Virginie Ledoyen, which is only a latent dream of Richard’s in the book. Also, Hodge abandons key characters from the book, focusing mainly on Richard’s descent into an animalistic mental state.
Hodge and Boyle are two of the key players that made Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, so expectations were high for this film. Yes, I know they also made A Life Less Ordinary, but, apart from the questionable Oh, God You Devil homage, it wasn’t all that bad. Boyle’s kinetic direction integrates Richard’s video game obsession well with sharp cuts and a techno-based soundtrack, but, apart from shots of the beach itself, it all looks and feels like an extended episode of The Real World gone badly wrong, complete with campsite singalongs and Phish garb. The movie is too thin because it glosses over Garland’s tightly woven and carefully structured plot. There is negligible character development, so it’s hard to feel any empathy for the characters when the inevitable conflict arrives in “paradise.” The Beach tries hard to represent so-called Generation X’s disenchantment with the commercialized world, but it ends up just adding fuel to the fire.