guppy's film reviews

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Year: 2007
Director: Gabor Csupo
Notable Actors: AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick
Score: B+
Summary: A well-done, honest take on Katherine Paterson's Newberry-winning novel.

Katherine Paterson's award-winning novel, Bridge to Terabithia, is (deservedly) required reading at a huge number of elementary schools nationwide, despite the place it held for some time on the American Library Association's banned books list. When word of the upcoming Bridge to Terabithia film was released, a lot of people -- myself included -- were terrified that the novel would be bastardized for mainstream viewers. I'm happy to report that that is not the case.

Terabithia is the story of Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie Burke (Robb), two fifth-grade children who meet at school and become friends. Social outcasts at school, they invent a make-believe fantasy world in the woods by their homes. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to elaborate further on the plot without spoiling some critical details.

The number one thing you need to know about Terabithia is that the trailers are lying to you. Released in a period notable for a string of "real" fantasy films, many unfamiliar with the book were expecting another Narnia or Lord of the Rings, and this one is nothing like those movies. The trailers, for whatever reason -- likely an attempt to cash in on the genre's recent popularity -- portrayed it that way; unfortunately, that means that the people who went to see it expecting Narnia were disappointed, and a lot of book fans didn't see it at all because they thought it was a perversion of the original. Do not under any circumstances allow the trailers for Terabithia to influence your viewing decision.

Overall, the movie does an admirable job of capturing both the letter and the spirit of Paterson's book. The story, most importantly, is intact and well. Perhaps most impressive: where many movies, particularly those aimed at a younger audience, tend to take a single message and push it throughout the length of the feature, Terabithia -- as in the novel -- is rife with multiple layers and themes, and it conveys each of them very well.

Robb is the standout actress as Leslie Burke. She absolutely shines in the role, which lends great support to the story. I'm afraid I was less enthused with Hutcherson's turn as Jess; he didn't feel committed to the role, and it detracted from the immersion. His father (Patrick), however, is excellent.

The other element I didn't like was the CGI. There isn't much, so it didn't have too much of a negative impact, but what there was seemed out of place, and I felt the mere presence of CGI in the film cheapened it.

A word of warning. The book is typically read by children of about the same age as the protagonists, and the movie will likely be seen by the same. Which is fine -- but it's exceptionally heavy material for that age, so if you're going to bring your kids along you should make an evaluation of their maturity.

Terabithia is a very good film based on an excellent novel. Above all, it comes across as genuine, and that's what counts most in a film like this one. Hats off to director Csupo.

Nota bene: Hutcherson comes off better following a second viewing. The clumsiness with certain lines remains, which is what set off alarms for me, but other, more important parts of the role are really very nuanced.


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