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Beautiful Creatures

2013 | 124 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Beautiful Creatures


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Theatrical release date

 14 February, 2013
 13 February, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Beautiful Creatures Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 13, 2013

“Beautiful Creatures” explores a romance between a slack-jawed mortal and a magical being, it features characters performing spells and dealing with a lifelong burden of destiny, and a few of the participants sport wild outfits and colorful hairdos. The movie is also based on a blockbuster series of young adult books. Sound a little familiar? That’s the idea, with the producers clearly hoping such formula will attract an audience aching for screen adventure now that “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” have ended, and “The Hunger Games” is between installments. Thankfully, “Beautiful Creatures” has a little more on its mind than simply rehashing stale fantasy fodder, but the pressure to distill the 2009 book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl proves to be trouble for writer/director Richard LaGravenese, who’s overwhelmed by the challenge once the film reaches its second half.

In the remote town of Gatlin, South Carolina, 17-year-old Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) is eager for his junior year of high school, taking him one step closer to his dream of leaving home, saying goodbye to guardian Amma (Viola Davis) and traveling the world. When new student Lena (Alice Englert) arrives in town, Ethan is instantly smitten with the intelligent girl, while the rest of the class happily makes fun of her relation to her uncle, town outcast Macon (Jeremy Irons). Trying to squeeze into Lena’s life, Ethan stumbles on her history as a Caster, or witch, who’s facing her 16th birthday, a special time when her future as a force for Light or Dark is decided. While Macon scrambles to protect his beloved niece, trying to stabilize her focus as the days tick down to the celebration, Ethan finds himself caught up in the drama, falling in love with Lena as she’s visited by her Dark cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum), a Siren, and her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson), an alpha Dark Caster, who’s exploiting a long-held curse to keep the birthday girl on a path to evil.

As it goes with these types of movies, fans of the original work will undoubtedly be able to pull out more entertainment value and general storytelling clarity than the average ticket buyer. The mark of a great adaptation is the relative low impact of such inevitable confusion, with LaGravenese only managing to keep “Beautiful Creatures” engrossing for the first half of the feature. The opening is quite enticing, introducing Ethan as an excitable chap locked in a love/hate relationship with Gatlin, mourning the loss of his mother, and fighting high school relationship woes with his obsessive ex, Emily (Zoey Deutch). He’s a beaming Southern character (Ehrenreich plays him with Gomer Pyle-esque bigness) finding a connection to Lena and her mysterious ways with Bukowski appreciation and random flashes of magical ability. It’s a pairing doomed to be challenged by outside forces, yet LaGravenese makes a solid case for the couple and their instant attraction, with Ehrenreich and Englert sharing passable chemistry, even if Ethan looks more like Emily’s father than her teen dream classmate.

Building this world takes a considerable amount of exposition, and who better to give the information a spin than the likes of Davis, Irons, and Thompson? Slogging through the details on Casters, Light and Dark, and a persistent curse of ill-defined importance, “Beautiful Creatures” at least has the benefit of committed supporting performances, easing appreciation for the increasingly convoluted fantasy world LaGravenese is attempting to build. Momentum carries the feature through Ethan’s introduction to Lena’s witchcraft world (featuring a manic panic aunt and grandmother who possess undisclosed powers), her painful birthday party reveal, and the rise of Sarafine, a spirit locked inside the skin of the Christ-loving woman. Additional spitfire is brought on by Rossum’s portrayal of Ridley, a sexed-up Siren who uses her lusty ways to aid Sarafine’s master plan. It’s all brought to a boil with interesting visual effects and a passable sense of clarity around the middle of act two, and then it all just stops. LaGravenese quickly loses concentration and the end game of the picture begins to blur.

“Beautiful Creatures” deflates in its second hour, spending far too much time away from the intimate elements that served the early going so well. Once Lena steps into an underground Caster library to research the limitations of the curse, there’s nowhere for the tale to go, stuck in storytelling neutral LaGravenese can’t shift out of. The lethargy hurts the resolution of the story, which builds to an unenthusiastic showdown of Light and Dark forces during a Civil War Reenactment event, which sounds more exciting than it actually is. There’s not much of a climax at all, just an ending lacking a thunderous confrontation that was initially promised. And, of course, there’s a promise of a sequel.

“Beautiful Creatures” aims to reach the fantasy highlights of previous franchises, and it certainly has the personality to fuel it to the halfway point. It’s the bulk of the story that ultimately confuses LaGravenese, who’s unable to isolate ideal dramatic highs and lows, catching the adaptation blues as he strives to please fans and welcome newcomers.

Starring: Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Thomas Mann, Viola Davis, Kyle Gallner
Director: Richard LaGravenese

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Beautiful Creatures - 2/13/13 37 May 30, 2013

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