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Film adaptation of tale impresses viewers

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It is always a difficult task when a beloved children’s book is adapted into a film. Children’s books lock away so many emotions and memories for young readers that it becomes both painful and frustrating when a film doesn’t live up to its original source material. “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Patterson is one of those books that has been treasured dearly by young readers since it was first published in 1977. A feature film of the work hadn’t been tackled until now because of the dilemmas in creating the world of Terabithia as well as the intensity of the story. Fortunately the film, scripted by David Patterson (the son of the original author), lives up to the novel and is destined to be a children’s classic.

“Bridge to Terabithia” tells the story of Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), a fifth grade misfit who deals with problems both at school and home through his artwork. His routine life changes when Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) arrives at school. Leslie is the daughter of two writers and has a wild imagination and an outgoing personality. The two become friends and they create their own fantasy world called Terabithia, where they use their imaginations to escape from reality and find ways to cope with their problems in the real world.

“Bridge to Terabithia” uses the special effects team that was created by Peter Jackson when he filmed his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in order to create the world of Terabithia. In the trailers, they promote the special effects as a strong selling point, hoping to attract the same crowds that turned out to see “Lord of the Rings” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Even though the film plays up the fantasy much more than the novel, the actual scenes make up a small percentage of the whole movie.

In the novel, only a small amount of detail is given about Terabithia since it exists only in the minds of the children. This is easily the film’s weakest point since the computer graphics tend to blur the line between fantasy and reality, which is always clearly demarcated in the book. At some points it is clear that the troll they see really is just a tree, but at other points (such as when the “troll” catches Jesse) that distinction doesn’t exist. The filmmakers would have done better to model their fantasy sequences after Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” in which two girls also create their own fantasy worlds. That film does a much better job of showing that their fantasy exists solely in their minds.

The core of the story, in contrast to the trailers, lies in the human element – in the friendship between Jesse and Leslie. Hutcherson and Robb both do excellent jobs in portraying the children and in dealing with the occasionally difficult subject matter. They both succeed in endearing themselves to the audience, who in turn invests their emotions into the characters.

The supporting cast is less noteworthy, with the exceptions of Jesse’s father (Robert Patrick) and their music teacher Ms. Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel) who both do great jobs of showing contrasting adult perspectives to the children.

Fans of the book will definitely not be disappointed by the film version of “Bridge to Terabithia.” The film is just as endearing and emotionally powerful as the original novel. Those familiar with the book already know about the tragic twist that the plot takes, and the film is no less heart-wrenching. For those who don’t know how its ends, be forewarned that it is impossible to leave without emptying a box of tissues.