Directed by Gabor Csupo
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 94 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: EHD, Spanish, French
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Review Date: June 12, 2007
Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Award-winning adolescent novel of friendship found and lost comes beautifully to the screen in Bridge to Terabithia. With memorable characters, a nicely paced narrative, and exquisite renderings of worlds both real and imaginary, the screen version of this modern classic takes its place among the better book-to-screen adaptations, especially for children’s literature brought to the big screen. It’s a bridge very much worth the crossing.
Fifth graders Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) find themselves on the outside looking in among their peer group. Their thoughtfulness and sensitivities to the world around them distance them from many of the crasser, more bullying members of their grade, so the two seek solace with each other. Noting each other’s gifts (she has an inner glow and a fiery imagination; he’s not always in touch with his feelings but creative with art and eager to please), they form a loving bond that leads them to create for themselves a fortress from the real world’s petty tyrannies and problems, a place where they can feel free to explore anything their imaginations can create. They name the place “Terabithia,” and this haven becomes the focus for a series of adventures that involves excitement, trust, and true friendship. But such a magical place comes with a price, and once the bill comes due, one of them must find a way to recapture its magic while dealing with a more mature point of view which makes conjuring the magic again more difficult.
Director Gabor Csupo has represented both the real world and the fantasy world of Terabithia with sensational finesse. How well he captures the school bullies and pranks that sap the heart out of a sensitive child, and yet how superbly he shows the resilience of the human spirit when one has something to live for! These two children, sometimes mercilessly the butt of cruel schoolmates, manage to find outlets for their emotions that don’t involve fighting or resorting to equally cruel retaliations. (Well, they do manage one act of revenge which they joyously but quietly celebrate; they are human, after all!)
The two young actors have the lion’s share of the attention as Jess and Leslie, and they give natural, winning performances. Though they do appear to be older than children in the fifth grade (I would have pegged them for seventh graders), that doesn’t negate their very real talent on display. Robert Patrick does well as Jess’s father, burdened by financial worries and a son who’s more interested in drawing and dreaming than playing sports), and Zooey Deschanel as the children’s understanding music teacher also makes a very positive impression. Moreover, all of the roles are well cast, even if some of the school bullies, particularly the male ones, end up with more one dimensional personalities than necessary.
In fact, the only place where the movie stumbles a bit is in its climactic sequences as Jess introduces the world of Terabithia to his younger sister. Instead of relying on the imaginations of the audience (as the director did earlier with only sporadic use of CGI) to picture the look of this wondrous place, the bridge of the title and then the entire world transform into an over-elaborate storybook land that looks as though it had been plucked lock, stock, and barrel out of one of Disney’s animated features such as Sleeping Beauty. (In the commentary, director Csupo makes a firm point that this was his intention.) The theme of using one’s imagination to teleport himself into a world of one’s choosing gets sidetracked into this literal display of CGI magic, but for me, the magic was stripped away by this reliance on too heavily overt computer graphics.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has been represented faithfully with this anamorphic transfer. You’ll have to look very hard to find a more stunning video transfer than the one on this disc. Colors are lusciously deep and true, and the picture detail is stunning even for a standard definition disc. Blacks are rich and shadow detail excellent. Edge enhancement is not a problem in this artifact-free superb transfer. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is exceptionally rich with strong, solid tone and an outstanding use of the entire sound field. Music makes up the majority of the rear channel use, but when necessary, ambient effects are channeled there most effectively. Again, one couldn’t ask for more with the sound design found on this DVD.
The DVD features two commentary tracks. The first and more substantial one has director Gabor Csupo, screenwriter Jeff Stockwell, and producer Hal Lieberman commenting on all aspects of the production. Csupo’s halting English causes him to use the word “amazing” often enough to become annoying, and occasionally all of the gentlemen get so excited about the film that they’re talking all over one another. The other commentary track features stars Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, along with producer Lauren Lavine, reminiscing with adolescent fervor about their fondly remembered experience making the film in New Zealand. Adults will probably find the first track the more interesting while youngsters will likely want to hear the stars talk about the fun they had.
A 14½-minute featurette on the lessons present in the film is called “Behind the Book: The Themes of Bridge to Terabithia.” Various teachers as well as production personnel and the book’s author Katherine Paterson offer viewpoints on the strengths of the original book with excerpts from the novel used as jumping-off points for the discussion. We also find out the poignant reason behind the author’s writing the book in the first place. This featurette is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The special effects work in the film is given a too-brisk overview in the 6-minute featurette “Digital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to Life.” This also is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Star AnnaSophia Robb performs the movie’s theme song “Keep Your Mind Wide Open” in a non-anamorphic widescreen 3½-minute music video. Her singing voice, heavily synthesized, is only of average merit, but the young actress’s fans will surely enjoy it.
As usual, Disney places some trailers called “Sneak Peeks” of upcoming releases on the DVD. Among others on this disc are Hannah Montana: Pop Star Profile and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The trailer for Bridge to Terabithia is not provided.
Bridge to Terabithia is an exceptional family film that genuinely earns its joy and tears though terrific acting, an involving story, and fluid and fanciful direction. Its imaginative look into the world of childhood makes it a fine film for the child within us all.