It’s been a fair few years since I read The Celestine Prophecy, but I remember it containing a handful of interesting philosophical ideas and observations (some of which have stuck with me to the present day) mired in a crappy conspiracy thriller, with flimsy, cardboard characters conversing in didactic dialogue. Last night I sat through the 2006 film version, and… well, it’s probably the best “big screen” adaption anyone could hope to make out of that god-awful framing story, but that’s damn faint praise.
I can understand the theoretical merit of providing the reader/viewer with a slightly douche-y “everyman” protagonist, who starts the story as a sceptic, but gradually learns to accept and absorb the revelations (or “insights”) contained in a set of ancient Aramaic scrolls… and I can see how sicking an army of oppressive antagonists on him reinforces the general theme of rising above fear and petty power-struggles… but his Latin American escapades are so ludicrous and schlocky that the “adventure” elements severely detract and distract from the thought-provoking philosophical stuff. There’s really no good reason for him to go all the way to Peru to get chased around by corrupt police and churchy types, just to learn a few very simple and universal spiritual lessons. Don’t they have shiny gardens and near-death experiences in North America too? Why go to such silly and needless extremes? Meh. They also leave out most of the actual insights, which seems rather pointless… like adapting a cookery book and leaving out all the recipes!
Meanwhile, my enjoyment of the film was also hampered by the fact that both of the major female characters were played by actresses I identify with intensely irritating characters in long-running and successful TV shows: The hero’s kindly garden-guru ‘Julia’ is played by Annabeth Gish (aka ‘Agent Monica Reyes’ on The X-Files), while his grudging love interest ‘Marjorie’ is played by Sarah Wayne Callies (aka ‘Lori Grimes’ in The Walking Dead). I have to say, Callies was always so grimy (and naggy, and death-wish-y) on that show, that I never noticed how pretty she is! That’s one of the few positive things I can say about this movie… it looks a lot better than I expected it to, with gorgeous locations, and above average cinematography, allowing you to better appreciate the attractiveness of the cast while you’re sifting through the clunky words coming out of their mouths for a few nuggets of wisdom.
Oh, and the hero’s ex-girlfriend, ‘Charleen’, is played by Robyn Cohen… who’s probably best known for her role as the script girl in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. They’ve cut her scenes down to the bone though, so she’s only on screen long enough to look cute and smiley, and set the guy on his path, before disappearing from the story completely.
Sigh… now I’m left wondering if the “insights” revealed in the book are copyright… because it would be nice if someone who could actually write took a swing at presenting them in a more entertaining and engaging form. Hmmm…