Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Bridge to Terabithia"- Save Yourself Some Money and Read the Book Instead

It's hard for me to look at a film like "Bridge to Terabithia" objectively. I love the book by Katherine Paterson and consider it one of the most beautiful children stories I've ever read. While the film version is a fairly accurate interpretation of the novel, a passive viewing of a film cannot compare to reading a story that is all about the powers of imagination.

"Bridge to Terabithia," directed by Gabor Csupo, was released nationwide on Friday. Disney and Walden Media, producers of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," teamed together again, far more unsuccessfully, to produce this film.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a boy from a poor family. The middle child in between four sisters, he works hard at his chores, wants to be the fastest runner in his class, and is a talented artist. When Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) moves in next door, she teaches him how to escape the bullies and pressures of his home life by imagining a secret land called Terabithia.

The film was marketed as another "Narnia," which was a mistake. Although the book does make reference to the Narnia stories, Narnia is a real place, whereas Terabithia exists only in the minds of Jesse and Leslie. In the book, the world of Terabithia is never really explained, leaving it up to each child to imagine it. The creatures that appear in the film are never mentioned in the book.

The misleading preview for Terabithia shows the children battling giants, vultures, and strange animals that look like porcupines. At least the film itself stays away from making those scenes the central part of the story. From what I've read, viewers are surprised that these creatures did not take up more time in the film, but the story is not about that. What happens in Terabithia is not as important as what its existence means to the children.

Katherine Paterson is an expert in the way children and adolescents think and express themselves. Hutcherson and Robb are believable in their roles, but I was more moved by their characters reading Paterson's words than watching them on the screen. Of all the actors, 7-year-old Bailee Madison, who plays Jesse's younger sister May Belle, is the talent to watch for. She captures May Belle's stubborness, innocence, and idolization of her older brother in some truly heartbreaking scenes.

The book was published in the '70s, and although the story is timeless, the film was placed in the present time with a quick reference to the internet. This would be less of an issue, if it wasn't for a crucial scene in which a teacher (the always enjoyable Zooey Deschanel) calls Jesse and a Saturday and takes him to a museum. Call me cynical, but it seems very unlikely that such an event, however innocent the intentions, could occur in today's society.

This is not why the film doesn't work. There is nothing awful about the film, but it doesn't work because it just isn't that memorable. It's an interesting companion piece to the book, but it would be a disservice to see the film without having read the book.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Having never read the book, I have a completely different perspective on the film. It made me want to read the book. It had me invested in the characters from the start. It would be a greater disservice to hold people back from seeing the film even if they've never read the book. The film inspires one to read the book. And either way, it's not about how you experience the story, but about the lessons that you learn from it. Watch the movie... enjoy it... learn from it.