Halfway through The Celestine Prophecy, I was exasperated and ready to turn it off. If I hadn’t been watching it for this review, I would have, and would have been better for it.
When this DVD came across my plate, my interest was piqued. I’d never heard of the film, or the worldwide bestselling book it’s based on, and the cover quote said, “…a huge leap forward in spiritual adventure films.” My first thoughts were, “if it’s based on a bestseller, maybe it has a great script” and “hey, I didn’t even know there was a spiritual adventure genre”.
So it was with relatively low expectations that I sat down to watch The Celestine Prophecy. And yet, despite my low expectations, this film was still a disappointment. My first gripe is with the plot, but I’ll explain the story first.
John Woodson (Matthew Settle) is a middle school history teacher. One day, he gets laid off. That same day, while brooding about his life circumstances, he gets a call from an old friend who wants to meet him for a drink. She’s a journalist, and she’s just been to Peru, where some people have discovered ancient scrolls of prophecy. Since she knows John loves old stuff, and she happened to be in town on other business, she thinks he’ll be intrigued. She’s right, and she encourages him to head down to Peru to meet Father Jose, who is studying the scrolls.
John’s not sure what to make of all this, but he’s not exactly busy, having lost his job. That night, he has a strange dream about some people in Peru, and he decides to look into his travel options. Amazingly, just as he sits down at his desk to look up a travel agent, he notices a travel brochure about Peru amidst yesterday’s mail. Realizing fate is at work in his life, John heads off to Peru.
After another string of incredible coincidences, John finds himself deep in the jungle of Peru, associating with a cult of people who are really into the whole Celestine Prophecy thing. He’s also in danger, because corrupt church officials are stopping at nothing to track down the prophecy scrolls and to contain those who know about it.
And so it goes. My issue with the plot is that it relies on the continual revelation of the insights of the Celestine scrolls. It’s all a bunch of aerie-fairy mumbo-jumbo and it requires lots and lots of condescending discussion to get it across. So even though on paper the film moves along at breakneck speed, the viewing experience is decidedly slow and excruciating. Maybe this stuff works better in book form, I don’t know.
As for the cast, performances are of mixed quality. Definite highlights are Hector Elizondo (Chicago Hope) as the corrupt Cardinal Sebastian, Joaquim de Almeida (Clear and Present Danger) as Celestine protector Father Sanchez, and Andre Vernet (The Da Vinci Code) as bad-guy Jensen. On the other hand, other cast members just can’t handle the preachy, heavy dialogue and make it believable. Stuff like this falls flat in the wrong hands, and it hurts the overall film.
And since the book by James Redfield is so popular, I blame the screenwriters for not doing a better job of adapting the story to film. This story does strike me as the type that needs a true adaptation to work on screen, and it may have been beyond the talents of this team.
In any case, you won’t catch me watching this film again, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone else. Unless you’re a big fan of the book, in which case you probably can’t resist seeing it come to life in some form or another.
So the film is long-winded and boredom-inducing. How’s the DVD?
The Celestine Prophecy is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen format. Sometimes, it looks very good. Other times, not so much. The theme here is inconsistency, with colour, sharpness, contrast and transfer quality all varying from scene to scene, and even from shot to shot within a few scenes. In a way, this is worse than if it had been consistently poor, because at least we might get used to it. But the rollercoaster of quality here just keeps reminding the viewer that all is not ok.
The menu is static, and scored.
English audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 format. It sounds fine, with consistently clear dialogue, and even some use of the surround channels for various effects.
5.1 audio is also offered in French, while English and French subtitles are available.
The Celestine Prophecy offers very little in the special features department. We get a making-of featurette entitled The Making of The Celestine Prophecy, and a collection of previews.
The Making of The Celestine Prophecy runs about 25 minutes, and includes interviews with most of the principal cast, and some key members of the crew. It’s not bad as these featurettes go, but also nothing special.
While converts of James Redfield’s bestselling novel might eat this film up, I found it excruciatingly preachy and overall pretty boring. The DVD presentation is hit-and-miss, with lackluster video, solid audio and scant bonus material.