So this week, as the school year drew to a close and my wife’s classroom prepared to shut down (forever, due to the school’s closure), she was looking for something to occupy the kids during their final days of attendance. She thought she might show them a movie based on one of the books they read in her classroom every year: Bridge to Terabithia. But before showing it to the kids, she thought it would be a good idea to watch it here first, to make sure the filmmakers hadn’t screwed it up. Because we all know what a bang-up job Hollywood always does on book adaptations, don’t we?
So we started the movie, and right away we got into trouble.
(movie mom gives movie Jess a pair of his sister’s pink sneakers to wear)
Wife: “That never happened.”
But, okay, it’s just a pair of pink sneakers. Jess colors them in with a black Sharpie or whatever, and it doesn’t become a major plot point. However …
(Jess meets Leslie for the first time when she shows up in the classroom and, later, beats him in a class footrace)
Wife: “That’s not right. He’s supposed to meet her when he’s running at their farm.”
Me: (looks at wife, says nothing)
Wife: “And she’s way too girly. She’s supposed to look like a boy. And they’re all too old. They’re supposed to be like fifth-graders.”
Me: “Okay, now you sound like me bitching about Watchmen* or something. ‘His costume isn’t supposed to be red, it’s supposed to be black, and he’s supposed to have brown hair, and―'”
Wife: “We’ve read this book in my classroom every year for thirteen years. I know it inside and out.” (points at screen) “That never happened.”
From there, things rapidly went downhill.
(Jess’s family’s greenhouse gets invaded by a possum, which Jess’s father traps and Jess subsequently sets free)
Wife: “That never happened. Those aren’t his chores. They don’t have a greenhouse. They’re supposed to have a dairy farm. He’s supposed to be milking a cow.”
(Jess gets birthday presents)
Wife: “He’s supposed to get those for Christmas.”
(Jess and Leslie get attacked by squirrels throwing pine cones)
Wife: “Oh come on. They never had squirrels throwing shit at them.”
(Jess presents Leslie with a dog, dubbed “Prince Terrien”)
Wife: “Prince Terrien is supposed to be a puppy. A scruffy little puppy. Not that cute fuzzy thing.”
(Prince Terrien saves Jess and Leslie from a giant troll by digging between its toes and extracting a huge wad of “troll toe jam”. By what mechanism this defeats the troll, I have no idea.)
Me: “Was there a giant troll in the book?”
Wife: “No. Never happened.”
Me: “What did the dog do in the book, exactly?”
Wife: (pause) “It ran around and barked a lot.”
Wife: “They’ve completely dropped how Jess thinks he’s a chicken and wishes he were braver and Leslie helps him get more confident. His character development is gone. It detracts from Leslie’s character, too. The whole point of the story is gone.”
Me: “That’s just how I felt when we saw The Golden Compass.”
But if those scenes put one nail after another into the coffin of showing this movie in the classrom, here’s the scene that shoved the coffin into the crematorium and turned on the gas:
Wife: (aghast) “Oh my God.”
Me: “Never happened?”
Wife: “I cannot show this in my classroom.”
Me: “What, you don’t want to hear your kids chanting ‘Free the pee!’ until school lets out?”
Eventually my wife became so annoyed with the movie that she couldn’t go on watching it, but she was too disgusted to fall asleep like she usually does when this happens.
Wife: “I’m done. Get that disc out of our house.”
But instead, I decided to fast-forward to the end, to see how …
… they handled the aftermath of Leslie’s accidental drowning; because even though I haven’t read the book, I do know how it ends. What we get in the film is a long stretch of dull surprise from Jess, at least until the class bully teases him about Leslie’s death by saying Jess is now the fastest kid in class. Jess proceeds to deck him, right in front of the teacher and all the other students.
Me: “So, did that happen?”
Wife: “No. Jess never punched anybody.” (watches Jess not get in trouble for punching out his classmate) “So now we’re saying to kids it’s okay to react with violence if someone upsets them. Nice.”
Finally, at the very very end, Jess returns to the forest that he and Leslie used to pretend was Terabithia. Now there really is a bridge, in the form of a tree that has fallen across the ravine where Leslie drowned. Unbeknownst to Jess, his little sister May Belle has followed him, but she gets stuck partway across the “bridge” and requires rescuing.
Me: “What’s that little kid doing wandering around in the forest all by herself?”
Wife: “Actually, that did happen in the book.”
(Jess is mean to May Belle, shoves her, and knocks her down; May Belle, sobbing, flees back home)
Wife: “But that didn’t.”
Needless to say, Bridge to Terabithia was prompty returned to Netflix, and did not get played for the kids. And now I know what it’s like to be the person who goes to the movies with me to see a bad adaptation of a book I liked.
(Leaving the theater after seeing “The Golden Compass” with my wife and some friends)
Friend 1: “I liked it.”
Friend 2: “Yeah, that was pretty good.”
Wife: “It wasn’t bad.”
Me: “That was terrible. They watered down the plot sooo much. They completely glossed over <BAD THING CHARACTER DID>, and they brought in <IMPORTANT PLOT POINT> from one of the other books, and they didn’t even get to <VERY VERY VERY BAD THING DONE BY SUPPOSEDLY SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER>, and furthermore …”
* I did not actually bitch about the film adaptation of Watchmen, which I loved. I did, however, bitch up a storm about the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, as the astute reader may have gathered.