" Because it’s a great book doesn’t mean you have to like it "
— John Sealy, Stone Reader

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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NOTE: this review gives away some of the movie’s plot, which may or may not spoil it for you. However, my nitpicking will definitely spoil it for you, so if you want to enjoy this movie, I recommend you read no further.

I predict that my review (negative) will be in the minority, but that time will prove me right. Here’s why.

The Beach is the first big-budget feature of 2000. It has high production values and big star power, and after a sleepy month of very few new movies, it will be welcomed as the beginning of a new season.

It has a hunky Leonardo DiCaprio and several other good-looking young shirtless men and women. If you prefer scenery to skin, there are shots of beautiful, verdant islands off the coast of Thailand. There are white sands, dramatic cliffs, and radiant pools.

From the chit-chat I heard afterwards, the people who liked it, liked that it was “different.” It’s true, The Beach isn’t easily classifiable as “thriller” or “romance” or “adventure.” It’s an amalgam of all three, which might give it a broader appeal.

So with all that going for it, it will probably be well received, if not by reviewers then at least by the public. It gets my premature congratulations for its assured success.

But success and quality seem to have little correlation when it comes to blockbusters, as The Beach proves.

The problem with The Beach is that there were plot holes and logical leaps that I just couldn’t accept. I generally dismiss negative reviews where the only complaint is that the writer “didn’t buy it,” because that’s purely a matter of opinion. And yet, I don’t know what else to say about The Beach, so here goes.

Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) has just landed in Thailand and is looking for some real travel experiences — not just the usual tourist stuff. He learns of a secret island paradise from a crazy hotel neighbor named Daffy (Robert Carlyle), who has a map.

The next day, coming back from the bathroom, a strange maid tells Richard there’s a note on his door. He looks at the note and sees that it is the map. He turns to ask about the note... but the maid has mysteriously vanished! He opens his neighbor’s door and sees the walls covered in blood. His crazy neighbor is dead!

With such a contrived, enticing setup, how could Richard not follow the map? The problem is that Richard goes, not because his character seeks it out, but because the author rolls him up and chucks him in that direction.

Richard invites another couple — Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillaume Canet) — to join him in search of the perfect secluded beach on the map. They travel as close as they can to the island, then swim a kilometer or two across a channel to get to there.

At this point, the movie tells us not to trust it. Francoise plays a joke on Richard and the movie is complicit in the joke. It’s not so much a joke played on Richard, as one played on the audience. It completely changes the tone of the storytelling and tells you to question everything you see. -->

They land on the far side of the island and start hiking toward paradise. They make it past a field of marijuana guarded by men with guns and eventually find their beach.

The encounter with the men with guns is preposterous. First of all, Richard has proven that he’s not afraid of shady characters, but he sees a sleeping man with a gun and immediately becomes frightened. When the man is awakened he brings another four armed men to look for the source of the noise, ready to shoot whatever it was that moved.

But if the island is so remote and there’s no way to get to it except by swimming, why are all of these men armed with guns. Who do they think they’re going to shoot? If nobody can get to the island, a single gun in a lock box ought to be enough.

Anyway, when the three arrive, they are welcomed into a “Gilligan’s Island” community of fellow European travelers who believe they are living in paradise. The only rules are that you must never leave and you can’t tell anyone about it — in part because the community wants privacy, and in part because of a deal struck with the men with guns.

Several things grate at this point. There is some subtle racism. The community is populated solely by young, attractive Europeans while the brown-skinned natives on the other side of the island are sinister and violent. Francoise’s character becomes a Hollywood cliché of womanhood. She sleeps with Richard before dumping Etienne, but when she suspects Richard has slept with another woman, she becomes insanely jealous.

And then there are unanswered questions, like why are there no children in this six-year old colony? And why are the next wave of newcomers not welcomed like Richard and his friends were? And why would the marijuana farmers want the fellow islanders to leave if they’re worried about secrecy?

I could go on and on. I’m tempted to, so I can explain everything I left out. But enough is enough. You get the point.

If you’ve already seen The Beach, I genuinely hope you were able to enjoy it more than I was. But by now I’m sure you’ll agree that it won’t make any best-of-the-millennium lists next time the opportunity arises (i.e. 2001).