hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy to "fix" something that has already been completed. as someone who works in production i am preoccupied with artistic intent, and it's reception at completion, and thus live in fear of it's failures. in writing, i hope to explore where a narrative story and its visual telling became derailed.
everyone who makes movies has made or will make a bad one or two, even the best of the best get lead astray on occasion... friedkin has "cruising", kubrick has "eyes wide shut", fincher has "the panic room", scorcese has everything after "casino", but today i will be writing about danny boyle's misfire, "the beach". why am i even thinking about "the beach" you may ask? i am a simple man with simple thoughts, for one i'm currently staying on a remote beach, two, my wife made me watch the movie the other night and there are currently no waves to surf.
"the beach" was made by the most talented people at the time and yet it's still a incoherent mess... danny boyle had already given the world shallow graves and trainspoting. on this project he continued his collaboration with screenwriter, john hodge, and editor masahero hirakubo. behind the camera was darius khondji, hot off fincher's "seven". the production design was andrew mcalpine, of "the piano", and the film was scored by the legendary angelo basalamenti. this was a production super group if there ever was one... and with a budget of $50 mil, what could possibly go wrong...?
i assume the script was rushed into production once post-titanic leonardo dicaprio agreed to the project, spiraling an incomplete script into a mess of a final film. to butcher a billy wilder quote, i believe he said something like this while accepting an academy award, "if there was any justice in this world, anyone who even completed a film would receive one of these"(these being a academy award). making movies is hard and i would hate to insult anyone in the industry..... but i do think enough time has passed and success has occurred to danny boyle and team that they might get a little chuckle and will not be deeply offended when they read this, googling their names in the deep of night.
i find the film interesting to dissect, because unlike many other films that don't work, it is not easily apparent why--this is because it is flawed on many levels. it's "badness" is multi-faceted. but i believe the main problem of the film is that it has too many plot lines and thus is ABOUT absolutely nothing. i have found 8 plots, maybe you can find more.
- a man actively seeks a real adventure to escapes his banal existence, only to find that wherever he goes nothing changes.
- a treasure hunt with three friends and with pirates as bad guys, pirated played by drug lords. treasure map included.
- a love triangle between best of friends a la jules and jim.
- an eden-like socialist sytem turns on its self while betraying its founding rules.
- a descent into madness due to isolation followed my mass killing, basically all of apocalypse now meets predator.
- innocent kids stumble upon a drug dealing operation, only to accidentally get sucked into it..
- another love triangle story, this time dealing with power and hierarchy of sal (tilda swinton) her life partner and richard.
- a woman forms and inevitably crumbles her idea of a perfect society with the very same ideals she used to create it.
so apparently richard, played by leonardo dicaprio, is a connoisseur of the space where sand meets salt water and a scholar of rural eco socialist economic systems and it's his life goal to find a place that combines both interests; because there is literally no other motivation to get him to "the beach". this character set up needs more then montage and VO. to the audience he is a judgmental brat, a holdan caulfield that accidentally boarded a plane to a place he never really wanted to go to. maybe he got the ticket using his parent's frequent flier miles. here are two alternative ways to get richard to "the beach"which make way more sense.
richard has traveled the world for the last year looking for something "different". he finds himself in a dump of a myanmar hostel, the end of the backpacker trail where only the hardest of hard go. he spends a drunken night talking to the only other foreigner, daffy, played by robert carlyle. daffy has gotten stuck in south east asia due to a heroin addiction and cannot afford to return home. in a drunken and druggy night he slips in and out of making sense as he mentions his only moment of true bliss aside from dope, an adventure, a secret, the beach! then he nods out. daffy OD's the next day and richard gets stuck with his belongings and finds the map leading to the beach. I'm not sure how ettianne and franciose would enter this version or if they would need to. this version would be more about richard and sal's (tilda swinton) relationship. the older matriarch who runs the society and the young stud who arrives only to replace the older lover.
richard has been in thailand for a month to screw prostitues and drink his brains out until his money runs dry. on his last few thai baht and on his last day or two before returning to connecticut, he meets a french girl, francoise, in a club and she beds him. she tells him about her plan to go to "the beach" the next day and vaguely invites him. she has heard the rumors of this magical place and wants to check it out for herself. he ridicules her plan, why would anyone want to spent months or maybe years on a secluded island with no tv or cold beer. instead of going to the airport the next day he takes his belongings and goes to meet her at a ferry or some port, avoiding his return flight home. noticing her from afar, he boards the ferry right before it's to depart, only to discover etienne, francoise's fiancé. richard is stuck on an adventure he desperately wants to escape from but fransoise flirts with both of them as the three form a bond. i would make etienne the nicest guy in the world and have him win over richard only to kill him off in a shark attack when they swim across the river. manybe his death is due to richard's cowardliness.... this would make reaching the island much more climactic and make all the jumping off waterfall bullshit have dramatic impact. finding the hippie community would be much more rewarding since they would have just sean a friend drowned or eaten and maybe they are half starved. richard should want to get off the island until he kills a shark and wins over the inhabitants.
killing off etianne in both version one or two would help eliminate the undeveloped jules and jim love triangle plot and strengthen the story and tension between richard, francoise and sal (tilda swinton).... poor tilda swinton is amazing but so under written.... but i guess everyone is sort of underwritten in this script.
the one great thing that resulted in the wreck of "the beach" is danny boyle must have had a meltdown because he returned with a totally reinvented style with the perfect "28 days later", and basically redefining the zombie genre. no longer working with a super group of technicians, but rather a bunch of up and comers. he works with antony dod mantle as dop who's only known credits at that point were "the celebration" and "julian donkey boy" and they don't shoot on 35 but mini dv!
not so ironically "the beach" continues to live a healthy bootlegged dvd life, playing nightly to half interested and drugged out 20 somethings in hostels around the world. i just hope the industry goes into production on a solid script of the inevitable adaptation of "shantaram" before leonardo dicaprio gets that one green lit. it's impossible to make a 2 hour film with all the plot lines on 1,000 page book.
P.S. i once stood behind danny boyle at 9th st expresso in the east village.... the location that is actually on 10th st...... and i was man enough to say "hi"and we shared some words on ken loach. nice guy....