The Celestine Prophecy Review
John Woodson (Matthew Settle) is a history teacher at a rundown inner city school when he receives word from the headmaster that his contract will not be renewed. Disillusioned and unsure of the next steps in his life, he stands before a poster portraying the big steps in evolution before writing, "Where next?" on the far right. Leaving the school that day, he arranges to have a coffee with an ex-girlfriend, Charlene (Robyn Cohen), who's just back in town following a journalistic assignment in Peru. There, she stayed with a group of scientists, priests and philosophers in the study of a set of mysterious scrolls, the last of which, though written over two thousand years ago, appears to have predicted the years in which we are living. Intruiged by what he hears and with nothing else to keep him in the States, he leaves for Peru, looking for the scrolls. It is the last of these that interests him most, a scroll that promises a coming age of enlightenment. A next step in evolution even.
On the flight down into South America, John meets a university professor who is also heading to Peru to study the scrolls. He tells John that the scrolls date from before the time of Christ but were missing for 1,600 years when they were buried in Peru and, once again, were thought lost. He even tells John about a supposed final scroll that contains a message for our future. That very night, John meets Father Jose (Castulo Guerra) but gunmen arrive at his hotel led by Jensen (Jürgen Prochnow). During the shootout, John escapes but his every move is tracked by Jensen. As he lies that night dreaming about a remote mountain paradise that seems to call to him. Meanwhile, the Jose, hearing word from Jensen, prays to God and asks if the path he has chosen is the right one...
If I'm being entirely honest, that makes The Celestine Prophecy sound a good deal more exciting than it actually is. There is a Dan Brown-scented religious conspiracy afoot, which, naturally enough given how these things play out, involves the Catholic Church and there is the kind of hired army that are commonplace in South American-set thrillers. The two - mercenaries and priests - don't look entirely at ease in the presence of one another but such is the way that religious thrillers tend to turn, with an otherwise respectable priest realising too late that the trail of bodies, kidnappings and disappearances may not be entirely the will of God. Never mind it being a central tenet of the Catholic Church that one must not kill, it would seem that Father Jose must actually see the result of his actions to realise his mistake. Well, either that or he's terribly disappointed at the clutch of mercenaries employed by Jensen, who look to be in between Steven Seagal films at the moment and tend to loiter in amongst the Aztec ruins without the kind of purpose that a crusade expects of them.
Of course, the subject of the film takes us on to religion. One imagines that latter-day religions must see the historical churches, including Judaism, Islam and Christianity, as having it easy, what with their teachings on not killing, not committing adultery and honouring a Sabbath day. In order to provide a bedrock of faith for their followers, more recent religions have had to build a bedrock on the ethical use of mobile phones, the coming of alien beings inside comets and the moral and spiritual vacuum of wearing an ill-fitting bra. Writer James Redfield, who has adapted his own novel for the screen, developed The Celestine Prophecy as a tale of John Woodson's search for enlightenment but flavoured it with such insights as, quoting The Celestine Prophecy entry on Wikipedia, "As we all evolve toward the best completion of our spiritual missions, the technological means of survival will be fully automated as humans focus instead on synchronistic growth. Such growth will move humans into higher energy states, ultimately transforming our bodies into spiritual form and uniting this dimension of existence with the after-life dimension, ending the cycle of birth and death." He's since busied himself with writing further books on a search for further insights but if they're as impenetrable as the nine presented in The Celestine Prophecy, his time would have been better spent trudging up and down Oxford Street warning us about the dangers of peanuts, the secret messages on the side of cereal packets and a forthcoming apocalypse led by sparrows.
But to the film and how, you might ask, is synchronistic growth and the technological means of survival best taken to the screen? Well, director Armand Mastroianni appears to have decided that enlightenment will look like an LSD trip but without the visual trails, the pulsating walls and Jesus appearing to complement us on the choice of Pink Floyd to accompany the psychedelic experience. In that, Mastroianni has Matthew Settle stare that little bit more intently into the screen while he turns up the contrast and colour on the print such that enlightenment appears not to do very much more than to make the yellows and reds appear very much more intense. To this Mastroianni adds coloured auras around the cast and, to visualise the ninth insight as a glimpse of Heaven, he has the ghosts of Woodson's friends appear to him, Marjorie (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Father Sanchez (Joaquim de Almeida) near the film's end. These spirits having already been enlightened, they look rather content to be swanning around Peru dressed in smocks, bright white dresses and maternity outfits but say very little about life on 'the other side'. It may be that James Redfield is avoiding giving the audience answers in his film but he and Mastroianni have so obscured their message behind the cover of a dull thriller that given the option of this or an equally dreary religious thriller, it will be The Da Vinci Code every time.
The Celestine Prophecy does start with an intriguing premise but then so too do the books of Dan Brown and, more recently, Sam Bourne (Jonathan Freedland). However, as those books come down to a shootout, a lot of running about and a helicopter crashing into a boat with a bomb on board that's being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a maelstrom around which swim a shoal of sharks (Deception Point), so The Celestine Prophecy doesn't deliver on its promise of a religious conspiracy. Instead, it collapses into religious flimflam with a new-age look of happiness on the faces of those who have been gifted with Redfield's insights. These insights, including, "A new spiritual awakening is occurring in human culture, an awakening brought about by a critical mass of individuals who experience their lives as a spiritual unfolding, a journey in which we are led forward by mysterious coincidences", are freely available and if you can read anything into them other than vague musings on the human condition, you're doing very well indeed.
Frankly, though, I prefer the likes of Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbour to anything Redfield has to offer. It may be that it's a pithier piece of wisdom to live by or that it's not utter nonsense but The Celestine Prophecy has no more to say on the human condition than does Pete Waterman. As a final note, though, South America is not without insight and enlightenment. Whilst working in Sao Paolo, I gained an extensive knowledge of the whereabouts of brothels in the city. But better even than that, thanks to a friend who returned home with a dose of the clap, I learned never ever to have sex with a prostitute who seems too willing not to use condoms. In fact, there might even be a religion in that.
Starz...isn't that what Nemesis used in say in Resident Evil 3? Apparently it's the name that Anchor Bay are now going under and while the name might be different, the same handling of the film onto film is noted. We have, therefore, DD2.0 Stereo, DD5.1 and DTS options for the English audio track, a lack of subtitles and a reasonable but not outstanding picture. Colours, as you might expect given the psychedelic effects, very good but the film is let down by the cheapness of the production. Lima appears, oddly given its reputation, to be not much more than a hotel, a couple of backstreets and a hastily constructed airport that consists of nothing but a brick wall on which is written Welcome To Lima. The film looks dark as though its shadows are disguising the bits of scaffolding we're not meant to be seeing but the DVD doesn't present any of this well. Colours aside, the picture is soft, even more so come the arrival of auras and spirits, and while there's no obvious damage to the print, The Celestine Prophecy doesn't look to be a film that's only a couple of years old. A good DVD transfer might have made up for the dreary-looking opening with more clarity later on but this doesn't, leaving it a very ordinary watch throughout. The audio tracks aren't bad with the dialogue sounding clear for the most part but with very little use of the rear channels. If you listen hard, there is a small amount of difference between the DD5.1 and DTS tracks but the DD2.0 is as good as either of the surround options.
Making Of... (25m22s): Spinal Tap had it that their appeal was becoming more selective the longer and less successfully they went on but in a suitably reflective and philosophical mood, Writer/Producer James Redfield claims that it was only in realising the vision in his original bestseller that he could turn his back on the bidding war between the major studios and, instead, make a cheesy chase thriller down South America way.
Director Armand Mastroianni even claims that this film has a philosophy, which suggests, like his LSD-tinged visuals, he's been at peyote more than one might advise. But such is the way of those involved in The Celestine Prophecy, all of whom appear to take it a good deal more seriously than it deserves, which includes the cast and main crew, who are interviewed for this making of. With behind-the-scenes shots and far too much of James Redfield and (one assumes) his wife, this promotional piece does a fine job of publicising the film. It does less well on explaining the making of The Celestine Prophecy.
Trailer (1m48s): At less than two minutes, it says almost as much as the main feature but does so in a fraction of the time.