Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson's classic novel about two kids who form an unlikely friendship, is one of my favorite books ever, so when I heard a new movie was in the works earlier this year, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. On the one hand, I just introduced my nine-year-old daughter to the book over the summer, and I knew she'd be excited about the film. On the other hand, though, what if "they" screwed it up? I know, I know, it's just a movie, right? I shouldn't get so worked up. But seriously, this book was one of the literary bedrocks of my childhood; I read my first copy to pieces, and have read it countless times since. I still cry every time.
I just saw the trailer, and my feelings are mixed. It looks like they're focusing heavily on playing up the whole fantasy aspect of Terabithia, which in the book is not as important as Jesse and Leslie's friendship. The producers are the same team that brought you Chronicles of Narnia, and it shows in the special effects, at least what we're seeing in the trailer. The description of the film on the official site seems to be putting a lot of emphasis on the fantasy angle as well -- it talks about Jesse and Leslie fighting the "Dark Master" and his creatures in Terabithia, in addition to their schoolyard enemies. Seems like a little heavier focus on the fantasy stuff than the book had -- in the book, Terabithia was left largely to the reader's imagination, but I suppose in a film they had to bring it to life. As to whether the filmmaker's vision of Terabithia matches up with your own, well, you'll just have to go watch the trailer and see for yourself.
One thing that seems to bode well for the film is the involvement of David Paterson as screenwriter and producer. Katherine Paterson wrote the book in 1977 (it won the Newberry Medal in 1978), as a way of trying to make sense of the death of her son David's friend Lisa Hill, who was killed by lightning when David was eight. David Paterson previously scripted Love, Ludlow, which premiered at Sundance in 2005. (Ludlow is showing on Starz next month, and is also out on DVD.) Interesting side note: Ludlow starred Alicia Goranson (aka Becky from Roseanne), who I think is vastly underrated as an actress. I'd love to see more of her in some indie film roles.
At any rate, Given David Paterson's previous experience and his intensely personal relationship with the source material, my hopes are high that the film will stay largely true to the book. As an added bonus, the film doesn't star Dakota Fanning! (Not that I have anything against Ms. Fanning, I just don't need to see her in everything.) My daughter is excited that AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) stars as Leslie. Robb is a talented actress in her own right, and she has a slew of upcoming projects on her plate. Josh Hutcherson (RV, Zathura) stars as Jesse, and Gabor Csupo (of Rugrats fame and fortune) is at the helm in his live-action directorial debut (I was hoping, given Csupo's involvement, that Mark Mothersbaugh would score the film, but alas, he did not).
I guess for me it's all going to depend on how well they integrate the Terabithia fantasy world with the real-life issues the kids are facing -- and on whether they mess with the ending and try to go all happy-happy-joy-joy with it. Life doesn't always have happy endings, but will the Mouse House be willing to end a film on a less than happy note? With David Paterson involved, I'm guessing they'll stay true to the theme of the book, but we'll all have to wait until February to know for sure.
P.S. We're working on an interview with David Paterson, but in the meantime, you can pop over to AICN and read their interview with him.