Chief Counsel Michael Stailey reveals the 10th Insight: Skip the film and read the book.
The book that changed our lives is now a movie…
…and it's everyone's loss. There's nothing more effective at tarnishing the impact of a novel than a poor film adaptation. Ironically, one of the preview trailers on this release is The Da Vinci Code. Both films mishandled their source material, running their respective messages and momentum into the ground. Fans of James Redfield's best-selling novel, and film lovers in general, will find little value or enjoyment here.
Facts of the Case
John (Matthew Settle) is a middle-school history teacher, laid off in a budget crunch. Yet, just as his world hits bottoms, he receives a phone call from Charleen (Robyn Cohen), who clues him into a major spiritual awakening happening in Peru. With little on his plate, 18th Century dreams, and a Peruvian travel brochure in his mailbox, John heads down to South America, stepping right into the middle of a political power struggle. The seated government, which feels threatened by the discovery of and fervor surrounding eight ancient scrolls, joins forces with the church to eliminate the problem—and anyone who gets in the way. Despite being a lost soul in a strange land, one synchronistic encounter after another convinces John his life's purpose may just be to protect the scrolls' message and its champions.
There's no easy way to soften the blow. Director Armand Mastroianni's The Celestine Prophecy plays like a community theatre production of a Tony Award-winning Broadway play. In collaboration with producer Barnet Bain (What Dreams May Come) and screenwriter Dan Gordon (Wyatt Earp), James Redfield has boiled down his tale to its base elements. Gone are the intriguing details surrounding each of the nine Insights and the lessons needed to fully grasp them. Gone are the magnificent visuals the book creates in the reader's mind. What remains are the primary complaints leveled against the novel—underdeveloped characters, poor dialogue, and heavy-handed mysticism.
I came across The Celestine Prophecy at a point in my life when its messages needed to be heard. While I didn't become a zealot, something about the book resonated with me on a profound level. Over time, the details of the insights faded, but the basic idea remained. Needless to say, I was greatly looking forward to the film. Sadly, while the story bears some resemblance to the tale I remember, it does nothing to enhance its intended impact. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect.
In hands of Terrence Malick (The New World) or Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), this could have been a stimulating visual feast. Sadly, Armand Mastroianni's (Cameron's Closet) vision lends itself more to a made-for-TV movie (a medium he knows all too well) than an epic feature. The setups are bargain basement, the transitions are choppy, the action and effects sequences are laughable, and the sense of urgency created by the novel is almost completely missing.
Going from bad to worse, the performances are The Celestine Prophecy's death knell. As John, Matthew Settle (Until the Night) is a poor man's Christian Bale, trying hard to pull of the complexities of a man whose world has been turned inside out but rarely succeeding. Jurgen Prochnow (The Da Vinci Code), a Sean Bean knockoff, is equally ineffective as Jensen, the film's antagonist. Think of the worst Bond villains and then take it down two notches. Gifted actors Hector Elizondo (Cardinal Sebastian), Annabeth Gish (Julia), and Joaquim de Almeida (Father Sanchez) are simply wasted. At times, you can even see their discomfort with Redfield's inhumanly stilted dialogue. The only two performances worth noting are Sarah Wayne Callies (TV's Prison Break in her film debut) as Marjorie and Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) as Wil. Both make the most of their screen time with a natural delivery and believability that's lacking in nearly all the other characters and the story itself.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is acceptable but nothing worth noting. The overall image has the Barbara Walters smoothing effect. Intentional or not, it's clearly visible and sometimes distracting. The coloring is odd but in line with the story. Once John moves up the Insight scale, his view of the world becomes more vibrant and the life energy surrounding him comes alive. Mastroianni fails to use the convention to his advantage. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track has to be one of the least effectual efforts I've encountered, failing to even leverage Nuno Malo's ethereal score. There are only a couple moments where the dialogue is swallowed, but English subtitles are on hand for those who have trouble discerning foreign accents.
One featurette—a 25-minute making-of documentary—is included, and points to everything wrong with this production. Most importantly, Redfield and his wife Salle are proud of how many studio offers they turned down over the years. They wanted complete control and they got it. Perhaps the 10th Insight should be knowing when to let go of your child, giving it an opportunity to grow and evolve.
As much as I enjoyed the book, I cannot in good conscience recommend The Celestine Prophecy. While some of the text's most important messages still shine through, his heavy-handed, movie-of-the-week adaptation is best left buried in the deep, dark Peruvian jungle, for no one to find.
Guilty…on every plane of existence.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Making of The Celestine Prophecy"
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