Jan 16, 2015

Review: Bridge to Terabithia (1985)

I think the likeliest reaction to the 1985 TV movie of Bridge to Terabithia is "This exists?" I kid you not, this is indeed an adaptation of Katherine Paterson's novel of the same name that came out twenty two years before Disney's 2007 version with Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb. The inspiration for the story and co-writer/producer of the Disney version, David L. Paterson said that the 1985 version was "like the crazy cousin that nobody talks about." Not the highest of praise now is it?

Once I heard of the existence of the 1985 BtT, I knew I was destined to see it. Shot in Edmonton, Alberta and initially broadcasted by PBS, every bone in my body told me that this was a movie not to be missed. After having seen it, I can tell you that it's not every day you can experience such ineptitude in film making.


Genre: drama, family, fantasy
Directed by: Eric Till
Produced by: Edward K. Dodds, Bill Novodor, Nancy Sackett
Written by: Nancy Sackett
Music by: George Elian, Thomas Richard Sharp
Running time: 60 minutes
Production company: Wonderworks, Twenty Minute Productions, Alarcom, etc.
Distributed by: PBS, Disney Channel, WonderWorks, etc.
Country: Canada
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Julian Coutts, Julie Beaulieu, Annette O'Toole, Gloria Carlin, Tom Heaton, Peter Dvorsky, Darlene Bradley, Sharon Holownia, Jennifer Matichuk, Tyler Popp, Bridget Ryan, Asaph Fipke



Jesse Aarons (Julian Coutts) is a fifth-grader who wants to be the fastest runner at his school. After training all summer, his hopes are dashed when new girl Leslie Burke (Julie Beaulieu) beats him quite neatly. Initially shunning his new neighbour because of this, Jesse eventually becomes very good friends with Leslie. Together, the two spend much of their time in an invented magical kingdom called Terabithia in the woods behind their homes.


The way in which I would describe Bridge to Terabithia is innocently bad. It's TV movie production values are very obvious, there seems to be a complete lack of direction and the acting is horrifically and comically awful. It's also pretty 80's to the max which just adds an additional layer of to this bad movie madness.

Let's begin with the acting it's probably once of the film's biggest undoings. Julian Coutts was probably forced by his parents against his will to act because he struggles to deliver the simplest of lines, let alone convey more complicated emotions. Can you just imagine going to shoot scenes every day and being awful in front of a bunch of people? I can't imagine Coutts having much of a better time than I was watching him try to act.

Not to give anything away, but the role of Jesse Aarons requires an ability for dramatic acting and Coutts is unbearably far away from being able to claim any such talent. At the same time, he's still one of the most amusing things to watch in BtT.

Scenes between Coutts and Julie Beaulieu can get quite awkward, especially during scenes in "Terabithia" which are incredibly undercooked. There's barely any explanation as to what Terabithia is or what role it plays in the everyday lives of Jesse and Leslie. Going by what I know about the book and from seeing the 2007 version, it's supposed to be super significant. The sixty minute run time definitely plays a part in this underdevelopment, but there's just no excuse for not properly exploring the concept of Terabithia in this adaptation. It's a major, major component.

The awkwardness piles on as we learn that Jesse has some sort of crush on his teacher Ms. Edmunds (Annette O'Toole). Julian Coutts displays more of his "shy boy" acting as Ms. Edmunds does weird stuff like touch his cheek and take him to art museums on her own time in order to encourage his drawing talent. It's the kind of thing that I guess was OK in 1985, but not so much in today's world where teachers get sued for giving students 0's. This makes the fact that this was done in the 2007 version pretty weird, but in no way does it approach the weird/awkwardness level that this version reaches.

I'm sure everyone who has an inkling of what Bridge to Terabithia is all about from either the Disney version or the book knows what's to happen to one of the characters. Is it well done? No surprise once again, Eric Till manages to half-inflate the whole thing like a balloon that's been sitting around for a week. Punctured by Julian Coutts' excuse for acting and you got quite the piece of work. (Spoilers) The death of Leslie is supposed to be a huge deal and it just isn't at all here. Julian makes a complete fool of himself and there's just nothing left to do but laugh uncontrollably as it all plays out. (End Spoilers)

Everything from the dialogue, the acting and the direction is a complete mess in Bridge to Terabithia. You'd honestly think it was the work of some backwater director who had never seen more than five films in his life, but that's not the case at all. Eric Till has been around since 1960, working in TV and film which should be more than enough experience. Did he just give up after the first week of working with Julian Coutts? Probably because not even Steven Spielberg can squeeze water from a stone.



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Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

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