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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 71.31)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    Hebrew, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  • Deleted scenes - Including alternate opening and ending.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Danny Boyle
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Music video - "Pure Shores" by All Saints
  • Storyboards

The Beach

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 114 mins . MA15+ . PAL


On the surface it probably seemed like an unstoppable recipe: take Alex Garland’s best-selling 1996 novel The Beach, super-hot star (and teen pin-up) Leonardo DiCaprio and Trainspotting director-with-attitude Danny Boyle, ship ‘em off to a lush, unspoilt island near Thailand and come up with a movie that would deliver both box-office appeal and critical raves. How easily these things come undone. The Beach, as it turned out, did nowhere near as well at the box office as the studio expected, and most of the critics either were lukewarm about the movie or outright loathed it. The bad press surrounding the shooting of the film didn’t help, with the filmmakers being accused of irreversibly damaging the island on which they shot the film (director Danny Boyle insists that this was not the case).

While apparently more of an ensemble piece in the original novel (this reviewer has not read the book), Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge have opted to focus on the character of Richard, played by DiCaprio. Richard is a traveller and a loner, heading from place to place in search of excitement and new experiences, trying to escape from the mainstream and find something fresh. He arrives in Bangkok, Thailand and takes a room in a low-rent hotel, where he meets a French couple that are also on an exploratory trip. And while Étienne (Guillaume Canet) and Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen) may be very much an item, Richard is quickly besotted by this mysterious girl. He finds a way to possibly get closer to her when loud Scotsman Daffy (Robert Carlyle) gives him a map that shows the way to an island where, unknown to most, the “perfect beach” exists. Richard talks Étienne and Françoise into coming with him to find the island - but when they get there, things aren’t quite what they expected. For they are not alone on the island, and while they think they may have found paradise - especially Richard, who is soon sucking seawater with Françoise - it only takes one mistake to bring everything undone.

Taking enormous liberties with the novel and promptly annoying the hell out of the book’s five million fans, Boyle and his team do the inevitable slice ‘n’ dice on the storyline that feature films demand, but the main problem with The Beach is not at all related to the question of whether or not it’s faithful to the novel. What causes trouble here is simply that Boyle is not sure exactly what path he wants his movie to take, and so when DiCaprio’s character goes off the deep end in the concluding act of the film, it’s neither convincing nor explicable - and neither is the way things pan out. Having spent a good deal of the running time exploring the characters and their motivations, Boyle then throws all that out in favour of what appears to be a thinly-veiled homage to Apocalypse Now (which was also referenced in the book, it seems) without the emotional weight of that classic film to justify its characters’ actions.

That said, The Beach is a perfectly entertaining watch for most of its length, and is expertly made - the cinematography (by Darius Khondji, who also shot the just-released-on-disc The Ninth Gate) captures the beauty and scope of both the island and Bangkok perfectly (and, appropriately, in a wide frame); stylistically the film is more aligned with Boyle’s excellent debut Shallow Grave than with anything he’s done since, especially the oft-quoted Trainspotting. The acting from the multinational cast is generally good, though the exceptionally talented Virginie Ledoyen gets to do little more than walk around looking beautiful and speaking in a French accent - presumably to give male audience members something to do while the girls get to gawk at Leo’s ever-improving impersonation of a genetic splicing between a young Elvis and James Dean. DiCaprio himself is a perfectly capable actor, though he doesn’t always get to show it; this script does give him the chance to up the moodiness stakes a notch, though, whether or not the audience understands what it all means.

Part of the problem with the final act’s incoherence is undoubtedly that this film was heavily trimmed before release, Boyle admitting during his Deleted Scenes commentary that the studio had ordered the running time be kept under two hours. As a result of these trims (which Boyle seems none too happy about) much of the meat of the story - the stuff that gives the characters colour and depth - is gone, and that’s nearly fatal. But those who’ve ever wondered what The Blue Lagoon would be like had it been built with attitude will find The Beach a good, if slightly unsatisfying watch.


The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer on this long-overdue sell-through version of The Beach is, to put it simply, superlative. Right from the opening frames, every scene is rendered with clarity and a film-like subtlety that shows off the cinematography to perfection. While there’s plenty of detail on display here (and quite possibly some subtle edge enhancement helping to achieve that look) there’s no aliasing to be found throughout, a rare occasion when it comes to high-end DVD transfers. There’s simply nothing to complain about at all here - it’s a remarkable transfer and encoding effort that shows others just how well it can be done.


The sole soundtrack provided on this release of The Beach is a 384Kbit/sec Dolby Digital 5.1 offering, and while the lower bitrate means noticeably lower high frequency resolution, in reality that’s not a serious problem here. The very active soundtrack features razor-sharp dialogue and plenty of music (both from composer Angelo “Twin Peaks” Badalamenti and from a bevy of pop and dance artists like All Saints, New Order and Richard Ashcroft), as well as some very active effects work in the surrounds and some suitably solid bass.

There is a good gigabyte of spare room on this disc, and that could easily have accommodated a 448kbit/sec soundtrack as well as giving the commentary track more room to breathe (see below).


For a disc billed as a “Collector’s Edition”, this version of The Beach doesn’t actually offer fans of the film a great deal - and loses some key features from the US release, most notably a featurette (a notable omission) and a veritable truckload of trailers. However, there is one major benefit with the R4 version…

Deleted Scenes: Presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 and, notably, 16:9 enhanced. There are nine scenes here running to a total of about 25 minutes all up, and they tellingly include both an “alternate opening” with temporary credits (Boyle says this was cut for time reasons) and an “alternate ending” which was later changed to lift the overall tone of the film, ironically excising what appeared to be a predictable certainty in the storyline. All of the deleted scenes can be played back with or without commentary from Boyle. It’s worth noting that the R4 version of this disc offers these deleted scenes with no other visual distractions, while the R1 disc overprints the text “Property Of 20th Century Fox - Deleted Scenes For DVD” across them. No prizes for guessing which is the preferred version of the disc thanks to this alone…!

Audio Commentary: Danny Boyle speaks informatively - but often sporadically - about his film, offering some interesting detail on the production process but sometimes resorting to stating the obvious by describing what’s happening on screen and telling us just how good a scene is. Despite some long silences, this is not a bad commentary track - but the major criticism here is of something a little harder to swallow. Like they’ve done with almost all their commentary tracks to date, Fox have encoded this one at a paltry 96Kbit/sec - in stereo! This translates to a very, limited frequency response, the result actually sounding worse than a RealAudio file streamed through a 56K modem connection. While Fox’s argument might be “it’s only speech,” the fact remains that the low bitrate makes the commentary harder to listen to, often harder to understand and, with a scratchy AM-radio-quality movie soundtrack playing in the background, frequently annoying. There are also a few points near the start where audio phase seems to get screwed up, the film soundtrack blasting through the left channel while Boyle is drowned out and directed towards the right. It would have been trivial in terms of space to double the bitrate of the commentary track, giving us full frequency response at minimal cost in terms of disc space (by our calculations, an extra 83MB) - or even encoded in mono at the same bitrate with full frequency response and no extra cost in disc space at all. But the real reason for this being done is likely that some European versions of this disc will carry more audio streams than our single-language version does; regardless, Fox could easily encode at a higher bitrate for the versions that can use it. Strangely, Boyle’s commentary tracks on the deleted scenes are encoded at that higher bitrate.

Storyboards: And plenty of ‘em - over one hundred pages of storyboard scans from various scenes in the film, sadly presented just a bit too distantly to allow easy deciphering of the various notes and instructions pencilled on them. Still, it’s a useful and interesting inclusion.

Cast And Crew: Seven biographies for the principal cast and seven for various crew and the book’s author, all curiously encoded as still-frame video sequences rather than as menu screens. While reasonably talkative, these bios omit comprehensive filmographies, which is slightly frustrating.

Theatrical Trailer: One of many put together for The Beach, this isn’t the trailer used in cinemas here in Australia - and indeed, it’s not especially effective either, though at least it doesn’t reveal a great deal of the plot. Presented letterboxed at about 1.85:1 but not 16:9 enhanced.

Music Video - Pure Shores by All Saints: The “big single” from the all-star soundtrack album, this pleasant but unremarkable All Saints effort comes with a pleasant but unremarkable video clip, which is presented full-frame (though the clip itself is “fake letterboxed”). Unfortunately, the MTV-style artist, title, album and label info in the bottom left corner remains on screen for the entire length of the clip, rendering this more an extended advertisement than a “special feature”. The black level of the video source here is seriously lacking as well, and the audio is mastered at way, way too low a level.

Animated Menus: Stylish, to be sure - but those navigating for the first time between the main menu and the special features menu are going to get very frustrated very quickly, funky 3D animation or not. During menu transitions the video exhibited some “tearing” on our players, and many of the menus exhibited some slight video instability.


While it hasn’t pleased many fans of Alex Garland’s novel, The Beach on film is for most of its running time an entertaining, well-constructed and visually lush adventure. It’s only when it loses its way towards the end that many will find themselves shaking their heads in puzzlement, wondering what they missed that would have helped it all make more sense. Danny Boyle’s flamboyant direction helps ease the pain, as does the widescreen eye candy on offer - both geographical and human. Fox’s DVD gives fans of the film superb picture quality for the feature and a very good soundtrack, but the extra features don’t quite deliver what they should.

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      And I quote...
    "...what The Blue Lagoon would be like had it been built with attitude..."
    - Anthony Horan
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