April 8, 2003 -- "Tuck Everlasting," based on the book by Natalie Babbitt, is a great-looking film with beautiful scenery and some fine actors, but it lacks a good third act. The film fizzles out at the end and comes to a conclusion like a train running off its tracks.
The story is about a reclusive pioneer family in the Old West named Tuck, who accidentally become immortal when they drink the water from a spring in the woods. Upon discovering what has happened to them, they return to the spring and set up a homestead hidden in the woods by a lake. There, Angus and his wife Mae (William Hurt of "Changing Lanes" and Sissy Spacek of "In the Bedroom") hide from the world, trying to conceal their secret and to protect the spring. Their two sons, Jesse and Miles (Jonathan Jackson of "Insomnia" and Scott Bairstow of "The Postman") wander the wide world, returning home every 10 years to visit. It is during one of these visits that Jesse meets a beautiful young girl from a neighboring home, Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel of the "Gilmore Girls" TV show). She figures out that the Tucks have a secret of some kind that relates to the spring.
Winnie and Jesse fall in love and Jesse tells her about the secret of the spring. Now she has a decision to make, should she drink from the spring and live for eternity with Jesse? Miles and Angus explain to Winnie that everlasting life can be a curse. The Tucks never grow old, so they never change. Jesse still looks 17 years old, even though he is over 100 years old. Angus explains that to remain unchanging is like being a rock at the side of the stream. The water goes by, but the rock stays put, never changing. Ordinary people change all the time, so their lives have a lot more variety than the Tucks experience. Miles tells of the sorrow of seeing his wife and children grow old and die, leaving him alone to mourn their loss. It is not an easy choice.
The resolution to this conflict involves a mysterious stranger, (played by Ben Kingsley of "Sexy Beast"). He has been following the boys and wants to find the spring of eternal youth. This final confrontation is strange to say the least. Winnie's decision is accomplished without adequate exposition. It needed more dialogue or narration to fill out this important part of the film. This kind of philosophical debate is one of those things that can be handled more easily in a book. In a film it is difficult. In this film, it is just skipped over for the most part. A similar idea was explored more effectively in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" during Elrond's speech to Arwen about the unique problems of being an immortal being in a world full of mortals.
As a result of this hole in the narrative, the ending of the film seems rushed and incomplete. For instance we get little reaction from Jesse regarding Winnie's choice. The character of Miles is interesting, and could have been more so. His experience with immortality is almost the opposite of Jesse's. Miles is more like the Wandering Jew, condemned to shuffle endlessly through a world he doesn't really like. Watching the end of this film, I was struck by the notion that important scenes must have been cut from the film, but I found none on the DVD. The film does have marvelous images, including marvelous scenes in the forest and on the lake, taken by cinematographer James L. Carter of "My Dog Skip." The film is full of wonderful colors. The acting is also quite good, as one would expect with award-winning actors like Spacek, Kingsley and Hurt. This film rates a C.
The DVD I saw was of the widescreen anamorphic type with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Audio tracks are Dolby (TM) Digital 5.1, English and French. There are some extras on the DVD, including an audio commentary by director Jay Russell and cast members Jonathan Jackson, Alexis Bledel and Scott Bairstow. A commentary by director Jay Russell and screenwriter James Hart is also included. The "Lessons of Tuck" viewing mode that couples the movie with opportunities to explore the film's themes and issues with cast members, including Jonathan Jackson, director Jay Russell and others. This commentary, unlike most, is both visual and audio. The interruption to the movie isn't bad, because the commentary occurs between chapters. "A Visit with Natalie Babbit" interview with the novel's author explores "Tuck Everlasting" and other works of Babbit, including illustrations she drew for her books. This DVD rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.