Bridge To Terabithia Review
Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is having a difficult time at home and at school. Rarely given a moment by his father, he's expected to help out in ways that his tree sisters are not. In the rare moments that he has to himself, he draws and paints in a notebook that he keeps away from prying eyes, notably those of his younger sister Maybelle (Bailee Madison). School offers no escape for Jesse. He's bullied by Scott Hoager (Cameron Wakefield) in class and by Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton) on the bus. The only thing that he's proud of is his running but on the school sports day at the start of the new term, he's beaten by the new kid, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb). On the way home, Leslie gets off the bus at the same stop as Jesse but rather than following him, she lives next door. Less suspicious of Leslie than earlier, the two of them run off in to the forest where, crossing a river on a rope, they invent creatures in the woods around them, even the kingdom of Terabithia. Together, they must fight the Dark Lord who threatens them. In real life, their confidence and friendship blooming, things get much better for the two of them...
This won't be a very long review. Not that there's an absence of things to say about Bridge To Terabithia but that my own viewing of it came about knowing very little about it. Due to the turn of events in the film, it actually demands a second viewing. Not that much is given away in the film, except that everything, both in our world and what little we see of Terabithia, looks too happy and contented a place to support a film of this length. We expect tragedy, not welcoming it or hoping that Leslie and Jess will be the cause of it but expecting it nonetheless. In light of that, the film that comes quickest to mind is Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.
Like Pauline and Julia in Heavenly Creatures, Leslie and Jess invent the fantasy world of Terabithia to escape into. For Jess, this offers a place away from his father, a bitter and hardworking man who sees Jess' drawings as whimsy. His world of hardware stores and vermin has no place for whimsy. For Leslie, an only child who finds it difficult to make friends, Terabithia is a place of her own creation where she has people, or folk, to care about, Jess included. Not lacking in confidence, Terabithia serves to make her more assured still, coming away to serve justice on the bullies at school who make life difficult for Jess and herself and for Jess' little sister Maybelle.
Of the two main actors, AnnaSophia Robb has the easier time of it. She is confident, funny and imaginative. She's pretty and sassy enough to have boys want to be her boyfriend and for girls to want to be her. The only one that she wants to spend time with, though, is Jess, played by Josh Hutcherson. Hutcherson begins the film disliked and dislikable, not saying a word at the breakfast table and pulling away when Robb offers him her hand in friendship after running a race. He has a much harder time gaining our sympathy and unlike Robb, must suffer a few indignities before becoming, in the world of Terabitha, something of a hero.
However, Bridge To Terabithia suggests that neither he nor Leslie are heroes and that there are moments when they experience guilt, loneliness and rejection. Like Heavenly Creatures, this leads to a tragic event, one that comes with no forewarning. Like all such things, particularly when they involve young teens, it is unexpected and shocking. Bridge To Terabithia, by its occasional moments of fantasy, will also have the viewer believing it to be unreal. Perhaps another sleight of hand in the same manner as the first appearance of the giant troll or the teasing magic that sees Jess find his father's keys and avoid a falling out of the shambles of a tree house that he and Leslie have built. It is not, however, any of these and it is quite the saddest film that has been presented to an audience of children and young teens by a mainstream studio.
The one real problem with the DVD presentation of this film is that it would appear as though it is a children's film, one in which AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson mess about in the woods alongside a collection of creatures who have stumbled out of the gap between Narnia and Middle Earth. That is not the case and my children - aged seven, five and two - were completely lost in ten or fifteen minutes near the film's end. My wife, on the other hand, was in tears, making this a film for a teenage, rather than a pre-teen, audience.
Ignore the fantasy imagery on the cover as these CG creatures are only used fleetingly. Instead, this is story of friendship, bravery and, ultimately, loss and overwhelming sadness. The last minute or so offers a brief respite from the drama and serves to make Bridge To Terabithia a heartwarming drama that would best serve an audience moving beyond the most straightforward of emotions and who are beginning to ask heartfelt questions, however simple, about love, friendship and death. In its fantastic setting, Bridge To Terabithia presents those questions and some answers in a way that will appeal to a group of viewers within a very specific range. My chosen audience was a mistake but take one a few years older and Bridge To Terabithia's mix of family and friendship would be most welcome.
Presented anamorphically in 1.85:1, Bridge To Terabithia looks good. For the most part, it doesn't show very itself off to any great amount but the clarity and brightness in the pictures comes with its moments in the forest when trolls, owls and warriors appear out of the trees. At such times, the armour glints, the sun shines brighter through the trees and the CG characters give an impression of detail in the image. There are no obvious faults in the print that's been used as a source for this DVD and even looking closely shows up no flecks or marks on the screen. The CG isn't of the highest quality - for being a few years after Lord Of The Rings, it isn't on a par with Weta's work there - and does stand out but that's not the fault of the transfer, which makes this an enjoyable watch.
The DD5.1 audio track is also very good. Right from the very beginning, it's clear that it's going to use all six channels very effectively and sometimes very subtly but their use is noticeable. The dialogue always stands out as does the action in the few moments of fantasy when Terabithia appears around them. Most importantly for those who like a film to have some contrast in its soundtrack, there are moments of near-silence that are very effective within the telling of the story, not least when Jess is driven away from his home on a visit to the city. The quality of the DVD is such that his guilt is obvious.
Commentaries: The first of these, which features director Gabor Csupo, writer Jeff Stockwell and producer Hal Lieberman does not start well. It is a, "...and here are the opening credits..." kind of commentary. However, it does get a lot better if you give it time, say about ten to fifteen minutes, after which time the three contributors begin to lighten up, get talking and stop working specifically with each scene. A little more time still and it becomes fairly entertaining, even a little informative but isn't a patch on the second commentary with AnnaSophia Robb, Josh Hutcherson and producer Lauren Levine. With two thirteen-to-fourteen-year-olds, it's a full-on affair from the very beginning and frequently takes in everything but the film. If you can handle the idea of being stuck between two teenagers, it's fine but there will be many who will see this as one of the less pleasant ways to spend ninety minutes.
Behind The Book (14m34s): This is one of the better features to come out of film adapted from a well-known book. Using school teachers, professors of literature and author Katherine Paterson, this explains in less than fifteen minutes why Bridge To Terabithia has remained a children's classic and why children of a certain age become drawn to it both in their own reading time and in their classrooms. There is some analysis of the themes of the book but, more often, this simply describes the appeal of the book and why it is as well-loved as it is.
Digital Imagination (5m57s): Look carefully and you'll probably see many of the Weta crew from Lord Of The Rings in the background of this feature as it was they who supplied the CG characters for Bridge To Terabithia. This short feature talks about he design of the characters, the sets and the action sequences with Gabor Csupo and Weta's Richard Taylor providing much background to the look of the film.
Finally, there is a Music Video (3m42a) for Keep Your Mind Wide Open sung by AnnaSophia Robb.