Surprised by the Bridge  

Posted by Benjie in ,

Recently I finished a re-read of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I was touched, moved, and awed as usual by the great weaving of a tale of friendship, growing up, and creativity. (Read my review of the book here.) I re-read the book in anticipation of renting the new movie that has just been released on DVD.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about the movie. After all, the previews prepared viewers for an all-out fantasy on the lines of the recent release of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In reading the book, I was reminded that the focus of the story was on the lives of Jess and Leslie, two fifth-graders (one a shy, boy who hid his talent because of a fear of being labeled a sissy; the other the new-comer whose family has moved out of the city to get away from all the materialism there). The story introduces us to the mystical, magical land of Terabithia, but very rare are the scenes from within the land. So, one can see how previews showing only scenes from the make-believe land would cause me alarm. (Perhaps the people at Disney think that the compelling images that are actually true to the book would not create interest in this highly acclaimed story.)

What I found was that the book had been produced for the screen more than once. I arrived home with Terabithia in tow and sat down with the big bowl of popcorn and a readiness to be overwhelmed. In 1985, PBS produced a made-for-tv version that flashed onto the screen. The script was fairly true to the story with the major exception of Annette O’Toole playing a character that combined the crabby fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Myers, with the beautiful and inspiring music teacher, Miss Edmunds. I’m still unsure how the screenwriters came up with that one. The acting was so poor in this version that even though it seemed to follow the story line fairly well, I was falling asleep. Besides, I was wanting to watch the new Disney version. So . . . back to the video store for a trade.

What I then found was an engaging visual interpretation of Bridge to Terabithia. There were enough alterations that I was inclined to say that the movie was not really based on the book, but enough similarities that I felt I should let it go. The updating from the mid-70s to the early 21st century were handled well, but unnecessary in my opinion. The acting and the presentation were miles above the 1985 attempt at dramatizing the book. All in all, I found a movie that held merits on its own, let alone the connection to the Newbury Medal-winning book. At this point it is time to say, “Read the book, it’s better,” because that is what you’re always supposed to say. However, I believe that the two can co-exist happily this time. I prefer some of the nuances of the book, but was thrilled at the fantasy scenes provided by the movie (yes, the same ones that caused my initial concern about the movie). Where the book alludes to the forays into Terabithia itself, the movie takes you there. The result, you get the best of both worlds.

In today’s case, read the book or watch the movie, you’ll enjoy both. If you have time read the book and watch the movie, you won’t have to substitute either for the other.

This entry was posted on 16 July 2007 at 12:40 PM and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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