|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 25 February 2003|
The possibility of immortality has long been a subject of discourse for the human race. Usually, those discussions begin with the catalyst for such a change, such as the Philosopher’s Stone, vampirism, etc. But one of the longest-lasting myths of immortality has been the Fountain of Youth. “Tuck Everlasting” takes a new spin on the old tale, and that is an interesting story in its own right. Natalie Babbitt’s novel was first published in 1975, and it was later made into a movie in 1981, prior to this 2002 remake. For a book turning 27 in this age of disposable properties, the novel may well be immortal in its own right, since it has also been chosen as an ALA Notable Book.
The Disney version of the tale is timely and yet timeless, as so many of that studio’s movies are. Chapter 1 opens with haunting and beautiful Irish whistling, underscored by rumbling thunder that seems to warn of a storm. In the present-day world, a motorcyclist cruises through a small town and stops in front of an old house that obviously means something to him. Gravel crunches under the motorcycle’s tires. The narrator’s voice gently brings the viewers into the story.
Irish music threads through the calm events that unfold and build a slow, deep curiosity. Mae Tuck (Sissy Spacek) goes to Treegap, the small town just outside the forest where she lives. The narrator tells the viewer that Mae goes there every 10 years to meet her sons, but the idea jars because Mae does not look old enough for this to become a tradition. Surely, at a guess, that reunion has taken place no more than twice, because both her boys look like they’re in their teens. As Mae waits, a car passes her carriage noisily through the right front speaker, mirroring the position on the screen.
Chapter 2 opens with 15-year-old Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) lying on the ground, playing with a frog and sulking about her life in general. The viewer is treated to the drudgery, from Winnie’s point of view, that is her life as she makes a so-so attempt at becoming a proper young lady during the early 20th century. Piano music rolls sweetly through the center and front speakers. A little later, the subwoofer sparks up during a game of croquet. In town in a later scene, the car noises seem to come straight at the viewer. While sitting in the car, Winnie is taunted by the other kids in the town and ends up playing baseball in the street. The voices of the taunters come from the right front speaker and match the positions of those people on the screen.
Irish music again fires up to intro Chapter 3 and a blazing sunset that lights up a big-screen projection television. The viewer observes the Tuck family and their cryptic comments that lead the viewer to believe that they have been around for a considerable length of time. Miles (Scott Bairstow), the older son, mentions that someone is on to them, and the flashback of the steam locomotive chugs through the subwoofer, lending weight to the steam clouds that billow out through the dark night. Patriarch Angus Tuck (William Hurt) makes the decision that none of the family should again go into town and that anyone found in the forest should be turned back.
Chapter 4 opens with Winnie catching fireflies out in front of the house. A man (Ben Kingsley) in a yellow suit comes to the fence – we see at once that this is the same man that Miles fears. A tense conversation ensues between Winnie and the man, alluding to the man’s dangerous nature and the fact that he is interested in the Tucks. Mrs. Foster (Amy Irving) dismisses the man in a straightforward manner, and he walks off into the dark woods, whistling the same tune that Mae Tuck played on the small music box she used while waiting on sons Jesse (Jonathan Jackson) and Miles. The next morning, the Fosters inform Winnie that she is going to be sent off to finishing school, prompting Winnie to flee into the woods where her parents have always told her never to go.
Lost and perhaps a little frightened, Winnie wanders through the forest in Chapter 5 until she spots Jesse drinking water from the knees of an old tree. Bird noises echo all through the surround sound system, making us feel as though we’re is in the middle of the forest with Winnie and Jesse. Obviously startled, Jesse tells Winnie that she has to leave immediately. Winnie points out that her father owns the woods and she has every right to be there. Finally, she admits that she is lost and Jesse offers to show her the way home. Jesse prevents Winnie from drinking from the spring and an argument ensues. Winnie breaks away from Jesse and tries to escape, but Miles shows up and captures her. Jesse chases after them as his older brother takes the young girl to the Tuck household. They ride through the forest, with the horse’s hooves drumming through the subwoofer provides adrenaline-pumping excitement, especially since the viewer has no idea what is at stake or what is going to happen to Winnie.
Mae Tuck is almost beside herself when she finds out that Winnie is a Foster. Still, Mae is compassionate with Winnie. She cranks up the music box and plays the same tune that the man at the Foster house whistled as he walked away. Winnie sees that the Tuck family is extremely nervous.
The mystery of the Tucks deepens as Mr. Foster (Victor Garber) goes to the town constable in hopes that the man can help him find Winnie. The man in the yellow suit puts in an appearance, bearing a picture of Miles in a Civil War soldier’s uniform. Mae tells Winnie that Miles is distressed over life because he has lost his wife and both children, which adds more mystery to the Tuck family.
Sounds of a waterfall fills the surround sound system in Chapter 9, plunging through the center speaker(s) and splashing through the front speakers. Later, in town, a car pulls through the street and passes through the center speaker(s) to the right front speaker. The noise inside the saloon where Miles plays poker streams through the front speakers. Winnie is presented with an extraordinary choice, with Angus Tuck presenting both sides of the decision to be made.
“Tuck Everlasting” is deep and moving, a good family film because there are only a few instances of violence or threatened violence that netted the film its PG rating.
The special features section has a good and insightful interview with novelist Natalie Babbitt. The commentary portions of the film offer a deeper exploration of the moral questions raised by the story.
“Tuck Everlasting” is a gentle effort well worth taking time to watch. Although the movie doesn’t really challenge a surround sound system, the soundtrack serves the story well, especially the haunting Irish melodies. Families with young children may find the youngsters bored, but this is an excellent rental for a preteen or teenaged daughter’s sleepover with friends.