Wednesday, 18 June 2008

DVD: Bridge to Terabithia

Lowdown: Kids look for acceptance in an imaginary world.
Prior to watching it, Bridge to Terabithia (BtT) intrigued me. On one hand, it was produced by Walden Media, a Christian evangelical group that peps up its films with good old Christian values as per their most famous creation so far, Narnia. BTW, it is interesting to note that the major studio collaborating with Walden in the production of the film is Disney: guess it takes a devil to cooperate with another. All this devil talk certainly made me curious!
BtT also got favorable reviews by the ABC’s David & Margaret. They said it was a nice adventure story and had a bit of a problem with its monsters, but if memory serves me right they gave the film three stars – again, that’s enough to make me interested in what seemed like a fantasy story (not it doesn't really matter what they said; it's what I remember them to say that matters). Who knows, maybe it would be a Christian version of Stardust? I was even more curious!
I’ll cut to the chase: I was gravely disappointed by BtT, mostly because it is not a fantasy tale at all but rather a film of a completely different nature that includes a bit of fantasy. I will warn you now that the following paragraphs include a major spoiler, so for the benefit of those who won’t read the rest I will add that not only is BtT not a fantasy tale, it is also very badly made.
Still here? OK.
So what genre does BtT fall into then, if it’s not a fantasy tale? The simple answer to the question is that it’s a film about outsiders. To narrow it down even more, it’s a film aimed at children that discusses outsider children and their attempts to survive and maybe even prosper in a hostile environment (that is, an environment made mostly of conformist kids). Thing is, given its target audience – kids having a hard time and looking for help – BtT packs a rather violent twist that makes me warn every parent out there not to show it to their kids.
BtT tells the story of a young teenager boy (as in, a teenager who only recently hit double digits) living somewhere in rural USA, where, as it seems, most people would fall under the definition of simple god fearing folk. He is good at drawing but he doesn’t get much acknowledgement on that: like all good god fearing families, his mother is mostly busy in the kitchen taking care of his three sisters while his father (Robert Patrick, the only familiar face in the film) is a hard working man that just provides for the family and is mostly interested in how well his only son has performed his house chores.
The boy is not only an outsider at home but also an outsider at school. The only person who would relate to him on the school bus is his little sister, while all the rest are pretty mean.
That, however, changes when a new girl comes to town. That girl is something else: she is not particularly Jesus oriented by her own admission, she is very literate (her parents are writers), and she can even outrun the boys in running competitions. This very imaginative girl finds her way into our boy’s class and, as is quite obvious, they quickly find shelter in each other’s unconventional company. Their differences unites them.
The Terabithia part of the story is the story of the two kids’ escape route: they find this abandoned neck of the woods and in their imagination they create a world of monsters and heroes where they just happen to be the rulers. They have some imaginative adventures there and they utilize some super powers to fend off some evil monsters (that, by the way, have a long way to climb up the ladder of evil before any other film would regard them as a proper baddie).
As I said, the imaginary bit of the film is quite short and is far from being center stage. The bulk of the film is to do with the children’s struggle to find their own identity amidst the surrounding atmosphere of alienation, manifested through older kids bullying the younger ones, sisters only interested in watching the crap on TV, parents who are not there, and lack of appreciation for our kids’ talents.
BtT takes a major turn at the end of is second act (that is, two thirds across this hour and a half long film). And here is the major spoiler: That girl that changed the scene for our boy dies; the rest of the film then becomes the story of coping with this death.
And that’s where my main problem with BtT lies: First and foremost, this death makes this supposedly PG rated film pretty much unwatchable for kids. While death is often portrayed in kids’ films, I can hardly recall a case where (a) it takes such a central role, (b) it is to do with a girl that is a child herself (as opposed to the more regular scene of a older relative dying), (c) it is to do with a main character as opposed to a supporting role, and (d) it consumes the viewer’s attention as much. Sure, teaching kids about death is important, but why so bluntly? If this is Walden’s idea of instilling good values, I would say they need a brain implant.
Thus BtT ends up a mishmash of sorts: a tale of kids trying to find their place, a tale of fantasy, and a tale of coping with death. None of the components really work that well with one another, the attempts at synergy are badly executed with suspension of disbelief overly stretched and the kids’ poor acting kills it all.
You finish watching the film and you ask yourself what it was all about and what was it that the film tried to tell you. The problem is, it’s hard to say: does it imply you need to escape to an imaginary world in order to cope with your problems here on earth? In my opinion the issues raised by the film are issues well worth discussing, it’s just that the handling is bad and the proposed solutions would make things even worse.
Memorable fact: The film’s church will not take females wearing pants in. I wonder if that is the general case with churches? I don’t recall the bible having much to say about pants, especially in the context of women. Still, it’s probably much better than the treatment women get at synagogues.
Technical assessment: As I had said on previous occasions – Disney knows how to produce a DVD.
Overall: A badly made projection of a weird mind that is quite disturbing. 1.5 out of 5 stars.


Uri said...

I haven’t seen the movie or read the book it’s based on.

From what I remember, the movie creators (director, writer, etc.) were very upset with the movie promos that made it look like a fantasy film. They were worried that people who are likely to enjoy the movie won’t come, thinking it’s a Narnia clone, and that others will come for that very reason and end up disappointed.

It’s unclear to me why you equate Disney with evil, and what exactly you have against Walden Media. Looking at their web site I see they made/published several family oriented books and movies. What’s wrong with that?

Moshe Reuveni said...

The movie creators have every reason to be angry: as you say, I came in expecting a Narnia myself. Still, the end result is pretty bad regardless of expectations.

I equate Disney with evil because they are the masters of merchandising and turning films into consumerism rather than art. From familiarity with the way they operate and the way they treat their employees, that attitude is not reserved to films alone but also to their clients and staff.

My problem with Walden is the same problem I have with any bullshit spreading evangelical organization/person. People end up fucked up because of their likes. Especially the families on the receiving end of their orientation.
Sure, they have every right to say what they have to say, but sadly we don't have their equivalents in the rational camp: With the exception of Charles Simonyi, I have never heard of a millionaire philanthropist spending money to help promote rationalism and the scientific approach; on the other hand, there's a multitude of them on the enemy side, starting from the tax free Catholic church and progressing to Walden and the guy behind Dominos Pizza.

Uri said...

but why do you call Walden an "evangelical organization"?

Moshe Reuveni said...

And I thought you'd have a problem with me referring to them as the enemy.
I called them evangelical simply because, to the best of my understanding, their stated purpose is to spread Christian messages (as opposed to creating good art or even making money). They're sponsored by a millionaire who considers family movies to be the best way to spread that word, which in my book qualifies as evangelical.
And also as an enemy of reason. Granted, one of many, but also one with too many resources and keen to pour their imaginary friends into the open minds of kids.
I suspect the damage could not be undone.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I don't have much to add, except that it's too bad this film wasn't better. I did read the book as a youngster and really liked it (It's hard to remember details, though). When I saw this film's previews I decided not to bother because it looked much more fantastical than the story I remembered. Turns out it's just misleading advertising.
The things I most remember about the book are the fact that it was a pretty good character development of the boy as he grew, and the fact that the girl died was pretty heavy material as a kid. But I didn't feel traumatized.

Moshe Reuveni said...

All I can add is that character development is indeed good, at least when comparing the film to its peers. The kids' acting is pretty bad, though.
With regards to the girl dying, while I'm fine with it I think it wasn't handled well enough in the film. You get to identify with her way too much so that when she dies I can clearly see how a kid would have a really hard time with it. Again, discussing death with children is not a bad idea, but BtT, in my opinion, doesn't do it well. It's too blunt and the answers it gives are bad, in my opinion.
I haven't read the book so I can't have a feeling for how traumatizing the book would be compared to the film. Generally speaking, I tend to be less emotionally attached to books, but I know of others who claim to be the other way around (I won't name names but rather refer you to the first comment here).