Judge Ryan Keefer went over the river, through the woods and over the Bridge to Terabithia. It's by the Road to Wellville, you know.
Our review of Bridge To Terabithia, published June 25th, 2007, is also available.
Discover a place that will never leave you, and a friendship that will change you forever.
Earlier this year, a sleepy children's film based on a long-favored book was released, using a myriad of computer animated effects and some familiar faces. It came and went fairly quietly and now that it's on high definition video, the question is how does Bridge to Terabithia stack up as a blu-ray disc, and how does it measure up as a film overall?
Facts of the Case
From a book by Katherine Paterson (conveniently enough, Paterson's son David helped to adapt the screenplay) and directed by Gabor Csupo in his feature debut (Csupo had been a writer for such children's shows as Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys), the film is centered on Jesse Arons (Josh Hutcherson, Firehouse Dog), the only boy in his family of six, living on a rural Virginia farm. Jesse gets picked on from the requisite school bullies, but he takes it all in stride, though it does bother him from time to time.
Things start to change when he meets his new neighbor. Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Her parents have moved from New York, and the two kids find comfort in each other's social isolation. They manage to find a place near their home which becomes an imaginary kingdom where anything is possible, and their limitations at school are not recognized. This confidence helps them more with some of their issues at school, as they both get picked on by many of the same people, but they overcome the bullies using each other's help and inspiration.
Wow, there's so much about his book and its author that I didn't know about. Perhaps I was too busy playing electric football growing up or watching my younger brother eat pages from the Sears wish book every October. But because of Paterson, who spent a lot of time in Virginia not too far from where I am, the book has been around for decades and has become a staple in my school reading lists. I never got that particular book (too much friggin' Judy Blume stuff I had to tolerate), but many more progressive, nay forward thinking school systems had their kids read it, and maybe they're better off than I was. Still, though, as one who knew nary a thing about either, what I came away with was a profound tale about friendship and the opportunity to maintain it as much as possible.
I was very impressed both with Robb's, and especially with Hutcherson's performances. He continues to take on roles (OK, maybe his parents put him in the right direction) where he gets the ability to work with seasoned actors and is probably picking up quite a bit from them. I first noticed him in a film titled Little Manhattan, which, for a children's film is pretty good, honest, and he came across with some aptly used nervous awkwardness which was pitch perfect. Here, he brings an emotional depth that others might not have seen before when dealing with a tough subject for anyone, let alone a pre-teen. He's becoming the well rounded actor and if there's ever a chance for a revival of Neil Simon Ã s works, he'd be perfect in several of them.
In his directorial debut, Csupo lets the material do the work, with some well-placed WETA computer animated characters of course. When I watched the film, the thing that happens in the third act to Jesse and everyone else really does pull the rug out from under you, but it's at that point when you realize that the people you meet in life help to mold who you are as an individual; they can change your soul, much less your belief structure. Bridge to Terabithia is a heartwarming family tale that is a worthy complement to a book that is rapidly becoming generations-old with good reason.
From a technical perspective, the MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks great during most of the feature. There are some scenes of camera panning that lose some detail in transition, and some other scenes that clearly show the kids running against a blue screen, but otherwise, the Virginia-ish landscape that is actually New Zealand looks quite beautiful on Blu-ray. The PCM soundtrack is a lot more involved and enveloping, with active surround activity for most of the film without any sort of mosquito noise or artifacts of any kind; a pleasant surprise for this disc.
Extras-wise, there's surprisingly not a lot on this disc, standard def-wise, Blu-ray-wise or otherwise. You've got a commentary with Csupo, screenwriter Jeff Stockwell and producer Hal Lieberman. The commentary is focused more on the production with recollections by all involved. Csupo is the quietest of the bunch, as English isn't his first language, but he provides key insight when it's needed. There's even a second commentary with Hutcherson, Robb and producer Lauren Levine, but that one is a little more tedious to get through and you can skip, to be honest. Following that is a look at the film, but it's really more of a look at the legacy of the book, featuring some interviews by the cast and crew, but mainly from teachers who use it in their curriculum. There's a skippable video from Robb along with the "Movie Showcase" which Disney uses to show off the video and audio in a particular scene on Blu-ray.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not having read the book may limit me when it comes to judgments for the film, so I'll limit it to the fact that there's a commentary and two featurettes that total about 20 minutes. I can't find anything bad to say about the film, so my main gripe naturally lies with a lack of bonus material to pore over.
I'm sure that the book always makes for good reading, but Bridge to Terabithia has got to live up to that longstanding reputation at least a little bit, doesn't it? The story is time honored, and the performances do it justice. The pleasant way WETA uses the effects to enhance without overkilling the story make for a fun and emotional ride that suits all ages. Definitely worth seeing.
Nothing can crush this not guilty verdict.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Gabriel Csupo, Screenwriter Jeff Stockwell and Producer Hal Lieberman
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