Thursday, June 01, 2006


The Celestine What?

Today, the film version of the runaway international bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, is opening the Cannes Film Festival? No. The Tribeca Film Festival? Nope. The Toronto Film Festival? No. Today, the film version of James Redfield's book, which rocketed to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for better than a year; the film version of the book that everyone read, and whose title was on everyone's lips, is opening (drumroll please)...the First Annual Staten Island Film Festival. Huh? Now, no offense to Staten Island, but this novel was an international blockbuster bestseller, and a true publishing phenomenon to boot -- the then 44-year-old Redfield, at first, self published his novel about the search for a Peruvian manuscript whose nine insights can save the planet, by reconstructing human consciousness -- out of his Hoover, Alabama home, and sent it out via mail order, using a P.O. box number. He sold 100,000 paperback copies by mail before accepting Warner Book's offer to buy the book in 1993 for $800,000. The novel then sold an amazing 450,000 copies in its first six weeks in print, and the rest was publishing history. So it's no wonder that fans (including myself) immediately started wondering about a film version. (I always kinda pictured it as sort of a New Age Raiders of the Lost Ark.) In fact, this book was The DaVinci Code of the the 90s, stirring a fair amount of controversy for it doctrine that there really isn't "one true religion" in the world, but that all religions contribute to the same universal truth. The essence of the story can be summed up by the quote of a priest in the action who embraces the insights: "We can't progress by using logic alone. We have to attain a fuller consciousness... because only then can our evolution toward something better be guided by a higher part of ourselves." In the 90s, people couldn't get enough of this. (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Care of the Soul, and God: the Evidence were also big sellers at the time.) But the 90s came and went without a film version, and The DaVinci Code actually appeared on the scene (with a whole new religious controversy to sell). Now, ironically, both novels have made it to the screen at the same time. But while The DaVinci Code opened to huge international boxoffice (fresh off the success of the book version), The Celestine Prophecy is platforming (remember platforming?) slowly, territory by territory, and opening film festivals such as the one on Staten Island. It's even more ironic that a book that professed "things happen when they are meant to happen," actually took 12 years to make it to the screen. I'm quite surprised the film version ended up being marketed this way. Perhaps it was too late. It might have been interesting to see both films open head-to-head on the same day. The Celestine Prophecy vs. The DaVinci Code. Still, with one 12 years older than the other, and given the short attention span of most Americans, and the fact that one movie has Toms Hanks in it, I think we all know how that would have turned out. Well, pretty much the way it did.

The books are completely different in nature and it makes sense that they would be different in their approach. The DaVinci Code is an agressive book. It deals with cover up and mystery. By its very nature it drives the reader further into the deception and asks him/her to choose a side. The Celestine Prophecy is a very different book. It is a book of personal enlightment. It invites the reader to move forward in the novel as well as through the insights. If the reader chooses to believe great...if not that is ok too.

It makes sense then that the DaVinci Code would storm the theaters in an aggressive campaign to force a decision by viewers and the Celestine Prophecy would gently become availble througout the country "at the time when one is most ready for it." I hope it comes to a theater near me soon. Or at least when I am my spirit is ready to see it.
When you're in the claptrap selling business, you gotta make hay while the sun shines. There's always another pile of my-ideas-are-"greater"-than-logic, every-brand-of-superstition-is-"true", everything-happens-for-a-reason horse shit right behind the one everybody's rolling around in at the moment. People bought the book because other people were buying the book (see your own post about why people see movies that do well at the box office and stay away from those that don't--do you think it would have sold those numbers if Amazon, USA TOday, the wire services and TV news shows hadn't covered the book's initial success?). But now, just like low fat has been replaced by low carb, which was replaced by low fat again only to be replaced again by low carb, fads for the "spirit" must be capitalized on quickly or they vanish. At least with dieting there's some actual science behind the claims, but fads like the one around Celestine Prophecy are interesting for about as long as a David Blaine stunt. Then it's onto something new...
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