Syfy to “Imagine Greater” Fairy Tales

Featuring a review of Beauty and the Beast by David Lister (director), 2009.
Reviewed by Deborah J. Brannon

Most of you are probably already aware of Syfy‘s new Saturday night original movie plans: seeking fertile ground after endless iterations of disaster movies and mega-monsters, Syfy has turned their sights on fairy tales, legendary figures, and classic children’s literature.

It’s not completely surprising: Syfy’s airing of Tin Man in 2007 and Alice last year suggested a quiet testing of the waters, feeling for viewer response to dark re-imaginings of familiar childhood tales. I haven’t seen Tin Man, the bleak and fantastical riff on The Wizard of Oz starring Zooey Daschanel, but I’ve heard it wasn’t a waste. Its ratings were phenomenal (for Syfy) and it was nominated for several Emmys, one of which it won. This past December, I was fully immersed in the fan response to the grungy and noirish Alice starring Caterina Scorsone and Andrew Lee Potts — Alice in Wonderland post-legendary age, basically — and there is a relatively small, yet dedicated and thriving fanbase. Critical reception, on the other hand, has been much more tepid. (For my part, I thought Alice had great potential, but that’s a topic for a future review.)

In case you haven’t read the particulars of this new direction for Syfy, some of their ideas include Red, following the romantic misadventure of a woman from a long line of werewolf-hunters whose boyfriend contracts lycanthropy; Hansel, featuring an adult Hansel returning to the wood of his childhood travails to find Gretel is the new witch; and other action films seeking to reinvigorate the Sinbad and Aladdin stories. You can read a bit more about these and other potential films in this article on the Sci Fi Wire.

To kick off their fairy tale programming plans, Syfy purchased Limelight International‘s Beauty and the Beast, renamed it Beauty and the Beasts:  A Dark Tale in all their network advertising, and aired it this past Saturday, February 27th as a “gritty celebration of Valentine’s Day.” In this retelling, Belle wears a cotton mini-dress under a leather bustier and makes usually good-smelling concoctions from local herbs for her washerwoman mother’s business. (Her unusual concoctions explode, and thus she discovers smoke bombs. I’m not kidding.) The Beast is a somewhat slow, careless fellow who saves silly herb-gatherers from very obvious stalking wolves, but  then doesn’t have the sense to hide after killing it so she won’t see his horribly disfigured face (although this latter is something he really wants to avoid). Then there’s an evil sorceress (Lady Helen) who wants to marry an ambitious count (Count Rudolph) and help the count gain the kingdom so that she can rule, because, even though her “heart’s as black as hell, and everyone knows it,” she knows the people wouldn’t approve of rule by a woman. And this completely black-hearted sorceress of not-inconsiderable power never thinks of subjugating them to her will or anything: no, she’ll win her right to rule through marriage! Also, Lady Helen has created a troll that’s made up of the Beast’s life force. Did I mention that, of course, the Beast is a cursed prince cast aside to die as an infant due to his temerity in being born deformed? Or that the Lady Helen is the one that cursed him because the King spurned her? Anyway, she’s used the Beast’s life force to create a murderous, ravening troll who tears people limb from limb so that we have to endure a number of graphic spurting-blood shots that are more laughter-inducing than stomach-churning. The usage of this life force, nor the troll’s subsequent pseudo-destruction seem to affect the Beast in any noticeable way.

Does that sound incredibly disjointed, overly confusing and, well, just plain ridiculous? I know it does. Also, it doesn’t really cover the half of it. I wish I were kidding: you need only read Genevieve Valentine’s hilarious write-up at Tor to see that I’m not.

The only thing I really felt I could congratulate the filmmakers on was their make-up design of the Beast. His countenance effectively disgusted me and I would have lauded any young woman who could see past it. Unfortunately, in this film, the love between Beauty and Beast was more oh-so-random than oh-so-pure. Belle insists on believing the worst of the Beast at the drop of every corpse, does so many about-faces of passionate belief that she should have permanent emotional vertigo, and nobly kisses the Beast with a stunning lack of feeling, but ridiculous amount of conceit because, of course, such a lovely woman deigning to kiss such a deformed monster should be enough to break the spell. Forget true love. (Big surprise: it doesn’t work. In fact, I’m not sure what causes the spell to be broken, as that’s also incredibly random. It just seems to come at the end of the story since that’s where it goes.)

I generally enjoy bad movies, but found nothing to enjoy here. Beauty and the Beast didn’t seem self-conscious enough to be a self-parody, nor did it play it so straight that you knew it was all for a laugh. In fact, it rather seems that everyone who showed up to work on it just… didn’t care. Except for the CGI guys: I know they tried their best with the skills and equipment they had, poor souls. Neither was enough to stifle my mirthless giggles, unfortunately. Possibly the only guys having any real fun on this set were the ones responsible for the gore.

Limelight International lists two other similar films in the works: Jabberwocky and Sinbad and the Minotaur. Even though Syfy mentions a Sinbad film on their brainstorming docket, I hope another Limelight International picture isn’t the movie they have in mind. While the choice of this Beauty and the Beast as an opening gambit hasn’t fully wrecked my hopes for future Syfy fairy tale re-imaginings, further acquisitions from Limelight International would. I’d love to see Syfy working more with RHI Entertainment, the company responsible for both Tin Man and Alice,  who at least consistently provides some entertaining material.

Of course, with this most recent article concerning Beauty and the Beast up at TV By the Numbers, my hopes are probably sitting on a very unstable foundation: “Syfy Gets Off To Strong Start With New Original Movies…