– Summary –
Director : Mark Waters
Year Of Release : 2008
Principal Cast : Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Sarah Bolger, Andrew McCarthy, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Todd Fennell.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: Twin boys learn of the existence of another world beyond ours, a faerie world filled with delights and terrors; in breaching this world, it seems the terrors now want to come into ours!
What we think : Well mounted adventure fantasy, aimed firmly at tweens and young adults (at best), Spiderwick is entertaining, exciting, and great fun. Highmore does well in the dual role of the Grace brothers, while Sarah Bolger provides solid backup as their sister, Mallory. Thoroughly entertaining.
After the success of Lord Of The Rings and the Harry Potter books making the transition from page to screen and raking in the big bucks, it was only a matter of time before every other fantasy novel on the market began to be scrutinized by the decision makers at the major studios for the same treatment. Bridge To Terabithia & Eragon, among others, are perhaps the most predominant, and now we also have The Spiderwick Chronicles alongside them. While Eragon barely raised a whimper, Bridge To Terabithia and Spiderwick managed to do decent business in cinemas, and were both critically praised in most circles.
I admit, I was utterly unfamiliar with the Spiderwick story, which perhaps worked in my favour, since the film tries to compress all 5 original books into 1 feature length film. With this kind of compression, comes a removal of certain story ideas that audiences who had read the novels would have perhaps expected. This would then lead to disappointment when it wasn’t included in the film, so I guess it stands to reason that having not read any of the books most certainly works in favour of the film in this instance.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is rated PG, although I certainly wouldn’t let younger children watch this film. The film is incredibly intense, perhaps overly so for those under the age of twelve or thereabouts. I’d criticize the rating on this film only for its contextual suitability for the theme material: I found that the portrayal of the chief villain and minions quite terrifying for children, so if you are a parent, I’d perhaps avoid this film for those who are susceptible to nightmares or being upset by scary scenes.
The story begins in fairly dark tones almost immediately, and barely lets up for the whole running time of the film: things go bump and clunk in the dark from virtually the beginning, and it only gets faster and more frenetic from there. In fact, the whole film is paced so fast that there’s very little time for character development; you’d be surprised to learn that the characters are quite well rounded and believable, something I would have not expected. Freddie Highmore (who we saw as Charlie in the recent adaptation of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory) plays twins Simon and Jared Grace, who, along with his sister Mallory and their newly separated mother, move into a distant relative’s old mansion (which, of course, could be haunted, but most certainly is possessed!) and immediately begin to find things not quite right with their new abode. Family tension (particularly with Jared, as the more moody of the twins) threatens to erupt, but before fisticuffs escalate, Jared stumbles upon a secret room in the roof of the house, which houses a chest (locked, of course) which houses a book. The book is tied closed, and has a warning taped to the front that tells the casual observer not to open and read the book.
Of course, Jared opens, and reads, the book, which happens to be the titular Chronicles of one Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), the family’s distant uncle, who disappeared almost 80 years previously. Opening the book, after reading the warning and not paying attention, Jared unleashes all manner of dark forces upon the house and his family, who go from increasingly angry with his dystopian behaviour, into outright terror when they too discover the magical world around them. It would seem that Aurthur Spiderwick’s book has knowledge of the secrets of the magical faerie world, which is wanted by the evil Ogre Mulgarath in order to take over the world. The book cannot be destroyed by conventional means (the kids try burning it, to no effect) and so begins the quest to save the world from the forces of evil.
Utilizing a large quantity of CGI effects, The Spiderwick Chronicles moves at a cracking pace, leaving only small gaps between the action scenes for the viewer to take a breath. For a film so reliant on digital effects, they actually work quite well, although at times you just wished for a live action monster to come out of the darkness for a change. From the small Brownie Thimbletack, to Redcap, the leader of the Goblins, to Mulgarath himself, the fantastical world of the film is perfectly realized. The always brilliant Joan Plowright plays the kids distant Aunt, who has spent the last few years in an rest home for the mentally unstable (her father Aurthur Spiderwick was carried away by moth-like Sylph’s to protect the information held within the book). Her role is small, but effective, and it’s good to see her back on the big screen again.
The good: The overabundance of effects are well used, although towards the end things get quite frenetic and I think the quality suffers a little, due mainly to the cast acting to “nothing” and relying on the computer guys adding the monsters in later on… this is a distraction, but not a bothersome one. The acting is generally first rate throughout, especially Highmore, who plays both Simon and Jared, with such utterly different characteristics that he truly makes you believe he’s two different people. Mary-Louise Parker is the annoying mother who can’t relate to her kids, and she does well in a thankless role.
The bad: the critical overuse of CGI to create the faerie world is perhaps the film’s biggest pitfall; although director Mark Waters handles it all with a certain sense of fun and assured worth, it all gets a bit monotonous after a while. The frenetic nature of the action is both a plus and a minus: things happen so quickly, and characters seem to make decisions based on stuff happening that would otherwise freak out a normal person, that it’s a little distracting; at the same time, it’s good to see that a lot of boring dialogue is cut out and we get into the story quite quickly. This works well, although it’s hard to find the right balance of pacing and action.
To be honest, Lisa and I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and would happily recommend it as a decent night in front of the TV, but again, I’d reiterate the unsuitability of the film for the very young. The creatures are all utterly believable, which could scare small children, but the fantastical nature of the whole thing is such that the “movie magic” explanation will be well served in this instance.