Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Estella Warren, Rhett Giles, Victor Parascos, Vanessa Gray, Tony Bellette, Peter Cook
Directed by David Lister
What is the one thing you expect from a retelling of Beauty and the Beast no matter how loosely adapted it might be? Romance, right? The story of Beauty and the Beast is a timeless romance. The one thing any version of Beauty and the Beast absolutely should have is heart. But this is the Syfy version of Beauty and the Beast and all that icky romance does is get in the way of contemptuous counts and wicked witches trying to snake their way into royalty by controlling a savage monster that slaughters whoever gets in its way. The only time heart strings get plucked in this version is when the witch’s hench-troll viciously claws someone’s chest region into a bloody pulp.
Syfy’s feeble variation of Beauty and the Beast would have the makings of a dark fantasy flick suitable for all ages had the producers chosen not to toss in the occasional gory decapitation and blood-soaked mauling. In this version it is not Belle’s love that transforms Beast back into a handsome prince; breaking the curse requires a body count on the part of the noble savage. The storybook narrator whose voiceover opens and closes the film informs us that this, the true origins of how the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast came about, is a much darker story than the one we are all used to. He should have concluded that opening intro with, “And if you ever wanted to know what an R-rated Hallmark Channel original movie would be like…” And here I thought Syfy was trying to move towards the softer side.
Model-actress Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes, Kangaroo Jack) stars as the plucky Belle, more than adequately filling the beauty side of the title. She loves the forest. She loves her family. She loves miniskirts.
Beast, on the other hand, is usually portrayed as either ugly yet erudite, a lovelorn grump, or the soul of a poet trapped inside the body of a man-animal. This Beast has the soul of an inbred forest hermit and the face of a rotten kumquat. What’s not to love?
Naturally, they fall in love.
Fall in love? Fall in love? Belle and the Beast barely spend enough time together to fall in like. I wasn’t even totally sold these two would be so concerned about one another on even a basic friendship level. I do believe Belle had more scenes with the villain than she does with Beast.
That villain, Count Rudolph (the underrated Rhett Giles, who probably would have made a better Beast), schemes to become sickly King Maximillian’s successor and rule over a kingdom that consists of a castle, a couple of houses, a few dozen people, and a whole lot of woodlands.
I was thinking as I watched the lush scenery that this was the most visually beautiful Syfy film ever shot in Bulgaria, until I checked on IMDB and found out it was actually shot in Australia, explaining both the lushness and why the look of the movie kept giving me flashbacks to “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”.
Achieving his goal isn’t as simple as merely shoving the rightful heir out the castle window, so conniving witch Lady Helen offers her services to seal the deal on the condition that she be his queen. Her contribution to ensuring Rudolph’s fanny on the throne involves a troll she’s conjured up and can control as sort of a hench-monster.
Troll? That’s what they call this thing? A troll? Doesn’t look like any troll I have ever seen before. More like a four-foot chupacabra with the color and skin texture of an uncooked Thanksgiving turkey brought to life via five-years-ago Sci-Fi Channel digital effects work. Terrible CGI work here even by Syfy’s standards. The visual phoniness of this alleged troll is an instant dealbreaker every single time it appears.
Count Rudolph and Lady Helen also have to find a way to eliminate Beast because the forest-dwelling urban legend is unknowingly the King’s son cursed from birth to live as a disfigured manimal. Belle and the Beast work together to thwart the throne-stealing duo and their hell-beast giving this version of Beauty and the Beast the feel of a second-rate episode of “Xena, Warrior Princess”. Actually, come to think, Xena and her female sidekick Gabrielle shared more sexual chemistry than these two.
2 out of 5
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