You can’t fully feel the exquisite sensitivity of director Jean Cocteau’s Beast (Jean Marais) unless you can see the tiniest, sad flickerings of his dewy eyes and the full luster of the rich jewels and gowns he bestows on Beauty (Josette Day) to show the depth of his love. It’s all captured well, beautifully in this new laserdisc transfer, the clarity and detail of which drive home a paradox of Beauty and the Beast utterly lost in the dim, blurry-looking tape version: Cocteau wants to dismiss the importance of a person’s appearance even as he revels in the surface lure and desirability of fine objects.

Criterion’s laserdisc provides sub-titles more detailed and fluent than those in older prints, and black outlines make them easy to read. The only parts of the package sorely lacking delicacy of touch are the disc’s supplemental commentaries. On an alternate audio track that you can select instead of the film’s soundtrack, film historian Arthur Knight says crashingly obvious things like, ”Those branches weren’t real”; after the film come excerpts from a pretentious early-’70s public-TV show. Thank goodness for laser’s rapid scanning capabilities, which allow you to zip back to Cocteau’s magically graceful fable. A