BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: SPECIAL IMAX EDITION directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, written by Linda Woolverton, produced by Don Hahn, with Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers. 90 minutes. A Walt Disney Pictures Production. A Buena Vista release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 61. Rating: NNNN
heading into beauty and the Beast, the sooper-dooper, special, giganto version for IMAX, I'm wondering whether the film, long regarded as the best of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musicals for Disney, still holds up as a picture. Is it still possible to sit through Belle's warbling as she wanders through the streets of her town without hearing in the back of my mind Trey Parker's perfect parody from South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut? It actually isn't, but the picture still packs an emotional wallop. The story is damned near irresistible, which is no doubt why it's survived so well in so many incarnations over the years. Artists started doing film versions almost as soon as there was film. The earliest version listed on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) is from 1902.
For the reissue, the filmmakers have added a musical number, slowing the narrative slightly but not much. It's too much like Be Our Guest, probably the reason the scene was cut in the first place. I should note that I'm not terribly fond of retrofitting films with new songs and scenes. Restoration is one thing, but culture is memory, which is unreliable at best. It seems to me that messing with an iconic cultural event, which Beauty And The Beast is for a lot of people, is a way of messing with the collective memory.
Someone who's seen the original 1991 Beauty And The Beast and someone who's seen the new IMAX edition have, in essence, seen different films -- though perhaps not as different as the first Apocalypse Now and Coppola's brand new, way-longer-than-it-needs-to-be Apocalypse Now Redux. This remaking business turns common ground into quicksand, and reminds me of the little voice-over announcement in Gremlins 2 where the TV station run by a character combining Donald Trump and Ted Turner promises "Casablanca, but in colour, with a new, happier ending."
The IMAX process offers more than a bigger screen. It creates a bigger film frame than conventional 35mm, and it's shot at a faster frame rate. Thus, the conversion of a 35mm film to IMAX means not simply blowing the film up, but getting on the optical printer and multi-printing frames so the flow of motion isn't interrupted. It's a complex task.
Frankly, I don't think it works terribly well here. The film still looks good, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Beauty And The Beast was not supposed to be seen at this frame size.
When we can see every detail of their design, static background figures look like empty-faced mannequins. During the final number, a couple of dozen of these pasteboard cutouts stand around the dancing principals, and it just looks weird.
The bigger image also starts to pry apart the film's elements. Those moments made possible by the multi-lane animation camera when shots appear to move forward into a realistic depth of space now look very fake.
Beauty And The Beast still works, but that's a tribute to the story's unbreakable heart and the loving care that Ashman and Menken devoted to the musical score, and not because the image is suddenly bigger.
films i'd like to see blown up for IMAX
BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
Forget the bad 16mm prints that used to circulate to film classes. Potemkin is one of the most stunningly photographed films of all time, and the rapidity of Eisenstein's montage means we never linger on images, so it could stand the blow-up.
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACEPLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACEPLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
If the IMAX procedure begins to disintegrate the elements of something as well made as Beauty And The Beast, it might well turn "the worst movie of all time" into the most bizarrely avant-garde film ever made -- every shudder of the papier mâché sets magnified, flying saucers hung from strings as thick as bridge cables.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIALAWRENCE OF ARABIALAWRENCE OF ARABIA
If you think it's a film of vast empty spaces now....
DEREK JARMAN'S BLUEDEREK JARMAN'S BLUEDEREK JARMAN'S BLUE
Because it would be very, very restful.