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Tuck Everlasting

If making a movie based on a popular book is a risky proposition in general, making one based on one of the most beloved children's novels of all time is roughly equivalent to playing cinematic Russian roulette. Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting became an instant classic upon its 1975 publication, entertaining young readers with the beguiling, wistful story of Winnie Foster, a repressed rich girl from the early 1900s who discovers the importance of living your life after she meets the mysterious Tuck family. And while purists may quibble with director Jay Russell (My Dog Skip) and screenwriter Jeffrey Lieber's (Hook, Contact) alterations to Babbitt's source material — the biggest change is that Winnie (Gilmore Girls' porcelain-faced Alexis Bledel) is now 15 instead of 10, which nicely facilitates the movie's "first love" romantic subplot — the celluloid Tuck manages to stay quite true to the spirit of the novel. Unfortunately, that often translates into too much talk and too little action; long speeches about the danger of the unlived life work much better on the page than they do on screen. Not surprisingly, actor William Hurt (playing Tuck patriarch Angus) is the cast member delivering many of the movie's "lectures" — he's proved in the past that he has a weakness for pontificating on the big issues whenever he gets the chance, and Tuck is no exception. Of course, most of the film's adult characters are over-simplified, so it's hard to blame Hurt. As his wife, May, Sissy Spacek pretty much plays "caring concern" the whole movie, while Victor Garber and Amy Irving — as Winnie's parents — don't have much more to do than fret over the whereabouts of their missing daughter. Winnie, you see, gets shanghaied by the Tucks when she stumbles across younger son Jesse (former General Hospital heartthrob Jonathan Jackson, looking like he just stepped off the cover of the 1913 equivalent of Teen Beat) drinking from the family's secret, sacred spring — the life-giving water that's kept them alive and frozen in time for more than 100 years. The dark side of eternal life is played out well both through the bitterness of elder son Miles Tuck (Scott Bairstow), and through the menacing Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley, in one of the movie's better performances). Meanwhile, Winnie and Jesse frolic in the fields and make eyes at each other, only to come smack up against the pain of loss when reality bursts into the Tucks' timeless world. Yes, kids, there's a lesson to learn here — and the movie never quite lets you forget it, which is perhaps its biggest fault. It sure does look pretty, though; James L. Carter's lush cinematography stays vibrant on the small screen thanks to the beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) on Buena Vista's DVD. The English DD 5.1 audio is also strong (English captions and French and Spanish subtitles are also included), and the extras are well-suited to the film. A short featurette takes viewers on a "Visit with Natalie Babbitt," while Jackson hosts a touchy-feely take on the film called "Lessons of Tuck." If you watch the movie in this mode, Jackson will occasionally break in with short segments that feature soundbites from the cast and crew and "real" teens exploring the movie's central issues. Rounding out the list are two chatty commentaries — one with Russell and Lieber, the other with Russell, Jackson, Bledel, and Bairstow — and a flurry of Disney "sneak peeks." Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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