Across the Universe: Darkness and light
Director Richard LaGravenese and his 'Beautiful Creatures'
By DonKaye_ParallelUniverse Feb 12, 2013 5:29PM
For screenwriter-director Richard LaGravenese, the most important reason that he hesitated about adapting the best-selling young adult supernatural romance "Beautiful Creatures" for the screen was the fact that it would almost surely be compared to another book-to-screen phenomenon in the same genre. Sitting down with LaGravenese and cast members for roundtable interviews recently in Los Angeles, that elephant in the room was addressed immediately.
"It was my largest concern and hesitation in doing this to begin with," agreed LaGravenese about the almost inevitable comparisons to "Twilight." "Not because I didn't believe that we'd make this original and something else, but because so often in this industry, perception is more real than fact. People don't want to know what something is; they want to know what it's like, so they can categorize it. So I don't know if (the comparisons) are good or bad. All I know is that we worked really, really hard to make this original, and that we both share a genre, like many movies do."
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On the surface, the parallels are certainly there. The novel "Beautiful Creatures" is the first of a four-book series detailing the romance between a restless small-town high schooler desperate for something new in life and the strange, magnetic outsider who comes to town and causes turmoil among the populace. The differences? The townie is not a girl, but a boy named Ethan Wate (played in the film by rising star Alden Ehrenreich), while his crush is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the niece of the mysterious Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). The latter is the patriarch of an aristocratic family that has played a seminal role in the history of the town of Gatlin. The Ravenwoods are not vampires, but are known as "Casters," immortal, witch-like beings with supernatural powers.
"Alice and I were both reluctant to do the film in the first place," said Ehrenreich. "We didn't read the script and we were kind of pitched the movie in a certain way, and said, 'Well, that sounds like something that's been done.' But then I read the script, and within two pages I could see that Richard was doing this unique take and it wasn't something I'd seen before. It did feel much more classic, and had a lot more charm and humor and intelligence to it. And then meeting Richard, his whole m.o. was, 'I want to do a film in this genre, but elevate it and make it more interesting and quirkier and idiosyncratic and do it with wit and humor.'"
"'Twilight' was a phenomenon, and you don't repeat a phenomenon," said LaGravenese. "You can't chase that creatively. You have to do something that you want to do because you love the story." He's correct, and while it remains to seen whether "Beautiful Creatures" can become a massive hit on the level of the dreary saga of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, one thing is clear: Although we have not read the source material, "Beautiful Creatures" the movie is far more interesting, compelling and thoughtful than all five of the wretched "Twilight" films put together (go ahead, send us your hate, Twi-hards; we stand by that statement).
Authors Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia have crafted a denser, more complex mythology for their love story, while setting it in a rich Southern environment and placing it within the context of that region's own comfortable relationship with things beyond human understanding. "I liked the world, I liked that it was kind of a Southern Gothic, which was appealing to me," said LaGravenese, whose previous scripts include "The Fisher King" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." "I was a big 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Joss Whedon fan, and loved the way that he was able to put mythology into a teen world and make it a metaphor for growing up.
"I saw in this book this great idea of all of us when we're 16 years old and we don't know who we are," he continued. "We're full of these feelings, we don't have our identity set yet and we're searching for our self-individuation. How much do we get to choose and claim ourselves, and how much do we inherit from our ancestors -- or do we say to our ancestors, 'No, I'm not gonna carry your baggage anymore. I'm not gonna be you, I'm gonna be myself.' I loved that idea."
Lena comes to stay with her uncle and other family members as she approaches her 16th birthday, the time of the "Claiming" for female Casters, in which it is determined whether she will belong to the Light or the Dark. Lena wants to remain part of the Light, but there are members of the Dark, including her wicked cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) and her own mother, Sarafine (who remains hidden for a while, so no spoilers), who want to use Lena's powers for evil.
"I liked it. It was really fun," said Rossum, the star of the Showtime hit "Shameless," when asked about taking the role of the sexy and sinister Ridley. "When I read the script at first, I kind of fell in love with the character. She's ballsy and out-there and has kind of embraced the dark side, and has a sense of fun with it. I felt that somebody who's evil, who really enjoys it and has fun with it is really interesting. So I read the book and fell in love with her there, too, auditioned and got the part."
While Ridley wears her allegiance on her sleeve -- or whatever sleeve she has on her rather flimsy wardrobe -- Macon Ravenwood is a different creature altogether. Clearly a being of immense and ancient power, he is a Dark Caster who shifts his allegiance to the Light, even though his own personal preferences remain somewhat ambiguous. "I think it's certainly very nice if characters don't fit into the sort of two-dimensional expectation," said Irons in that unmistakable gravelly voice. "One of the things I like about Macon was not just his wit and his panache, but his enigma -- you don't really know where he's coming from.
"I think you still don't know where he's coming from, even at the end of the movie," adds Irons. "I couldn't tell you whether he's a 'good guy' or a 'bad guy.' I suspect that his fighting the Dark -- a Dark Caster trying to be a Light Caster -- is sort of like most of us. We have bad sides, we have good sides. We know that we all carry the possibility for that within us, and every little action and decision in our day is sort of dependent upon which way we choose to go."
The more complex nature of the mythology, the questions posed by the story and the more multilayered approach to the characters all serve to set "Beautiful Creatures" apart from its genre competition and, if appealing enough to a mass audience, open the door for the next three books in the series to be adapted as well (LaGravenese says he hasn't read them yet because he wanted to make this one stand on its own). Whatever happens, everyone involved -- including Alice Englert in what could be a star-making turn -- is pleased to give this particular storytelling niche a fresh tweak or two.
"That was what really sold me on the script," said Englert. "Just that we were able to have a film that could sit in a mainstream genre and just fall left of center of every cliché that we dealt with -- or laugh at them or completely embody them and love them. That was great. We couldn't have really done this film without having a sense of humor as well, and I think we had such a great cast and crew for that."
"Beautiful Creatures" is out in theaters Thursday, Feb. 14.
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