I’ve never had advanced screening tickets before in my life. So, when I did get advanced screening tickets for Beautiful Creatures—a young adult book series that I enjoyed immensely—I was triply excited. I got to see the movie early and for free (well, if you don’t count the $18 we spent on popcorn and Junior Mints), and then I got to review it for you here at Sprocket Ink!
By the time I was walking out of the movie theater, however, I was mumbling my own dark casts under my breath, along with many of my fellow advance screeners. I spoke with a handful of viewers while walking out of the theater and it was unanimous: Skip the movie and buy the books.
Beautiful Creatures—the book series—is everything supernatural a teenage girl could want (light casters, dark casters, sirens, incubi, succubae, vexes, sheers; you name it) and there’s no glittering vampires who glower at one another. It is also a love story—one that parents might actually want their daughters to emulate. There’s no silly, simpering girls waiting for a supernatural creature to come and save her from herself. Ethan Wate, the narrator and a mortal, is waiting for the girl he keeps dreaming about. And you know what? She’s smart, witty, and kicks some major ass.
Ethan Wate lives in a tiny Southern town (Gatlin, South Carolina) in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where no one ever leaves. He has big plans; he’ll be getting out of there once high school is done. His mother was the town librarian before she died in a horrific car accident the year before, and given that she was an outsider and Duke educated, she surrounded herself with books. She surrounded her son with books as well. Ethan reads Kerouac and Vonnegut and Miller and Rand and each book in the Caster Chronicles actually has a piece of classic literature attached to it (Beautiful Creatures, in fact, uses To Kill a Mockingbird throughout the story to illustrate the divides that can arise in small town, Southern life).
Ethan’s dad is not doing so well since his mother’s death. He’s locked himself in Ethan’s mother’s office, and only comes out to shower and eat cereal. Amma– descendant from the Gullah, a seer and a Voodoo practitioner– who has cared for Ethan’s father and then for Ethan since both were babies, is one of two actual parent figures Ethan currently has in his life. His other is Aunt Marian—who is now running the library now that his mother has died. The strength of Southern women and of cultural traditions (including the food) comes through with these two characters.
Enter Lena—the girl Ethan keeps dreaming about—stage right. She is a poet and the niece of the town eccentric, Macon Ravenwood—whose family founded the town of Gatlin in the height of the Antebellum South—who hasn’t actually been seen in town for the last twenty-five years (Boo Radley, anyone?). Ethan is initially drawn to Lena for the novelty factor (new girl in school at the start of sophomore year), but then realizes that she is the girl from his dreams. He has the chance to pull out the good manners and natural charm of many years in training as a Southern gentleman, and she gets to fire back witticisms and cultural critique that demonstrates smart girls can, in fact, be the object of teen boys’ affection.
Take this smart writing and the unique perspective of a male narrator in a YA fiction series, and then add a couple of plot lines. First, the town quickly and viciously turns on Lena as an outsider. Second, there’s the battle Gatlin has which is indicative of many a small town in the New South—what cultural heritage can be preserved when you’re on the losing side of a major point in American history (the Civil War; no, wait—the War of Northern Aggression, to be accurate)? Then, add the fact Lena comes from a Caster family that is cursed, and when she reaches her sixteenth birthday, she doesn’t get to choose whether she’ll be a dark or a light caster; the decision will be made for her. Oh, and given that her family is filled with both light and dark casters, they all want to try and push her in their direction. Especially since she’s a Natural—someone who can control the elements, and one of the most powerful casters in the world, second to only her mother, who went dark—and once she’s chosen for one side or the other, the other side of her family will die.
The book series completely blows Twilight out of the water. Too bad the movie didn’t do the same.
Now, the Southern charm and jokes are there, to a certain extent. And the character casting was well done. Those who have read the series, though, will be disappointed for numerous reasons, which I will only briefly go into here, as to not introduce too many spoilers:
1) The screenwriter wrote out some major characters. I won’t tell you which ones, but it will make it difficult to make the sequels. They also gave other loved characters much less screen time than they had in the books.
2) The movie completely ignores the complexity of the non-mortal world.
3) The director really muddied the major plot line—the curse and Lena’s battle to break the curse and choose her own path—in what I believe to be an excuse for some elaborate costume design. They also miss the mark on the other plot lines—likely due to perceived time constraints on the final edit of the film.
4) The movie doesn’t play up what I consider to be the best part of the book series—the ties to classic literature that actually make reading things like Mockingbird sexy to a younger audience.
I would also guess that those who have not read Beautiful Creatures will find the movie lacking. I spoke with two individuals who had not read the books (both men, I might add), who said that while the movie did not piss them off in the way it angered their significant others, who had read the books, they still felt there was a certain level of complexity or richness missing from the film. I’m betting they wanted to see more of her…
All in all, I cannot recommend you catch the movie in the theaters. Those who’ve read the series will be disappointed. I think those who haven’t read the books will also be disappointed. I’m pretty bummed that a series—while not high literature, by any means, but certainly better than Twilight, and with a better overall message for teens—that had excellent potential to fill the gap left by the Harry Potter films and the Twilight films just doesn’t measure up. If Sprocket Ink asked me to do such a thing, I would have to give it only two out of five stars.