What a coincidence that the day my family moves into a new older home, I watch The Spiderwick Chronicles, a fantasy that begins just so! Based on the book series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, the film makes shrewd decisions about what to include, what to drop, and what to alter. The film is fairly faithful to the first book, The Field Guide, as well as the second The Seeing Stone. Lucinda’s Secret and The Wrath of Mulgarath are modified considerably to better fit into the plotline, while the fourth book, The Ironwood Tree, is dropped entirely since it didn’t really add that much to the book series either. Films based on books can either be huge hits due to their faithfulness (The Hunger Games films) or quality (The Lord of the Rings), but, if they are lacking in either respect, they can bomb and never earn enough to garner a sequel (Eragon, Inkheart). The Spiderwick Chronicles falls squarely in the middle of the pack, yet, even though it revises many elements from the books, it has the right tone and overall quality to make it enchanting and entertaining for both fans of the series and non-fans alike.
Freddie Highmore is excellent, as usual, playing twins, the learned Simon, who doesn’t “do conflict,” and Jared, who (apparently not having seen The Mummy) thinks that no harm could come from reading a book. Sarah Bolger, known for playing Mary Tudor on The Tudors, exhibits the right amount of sibling disdain as Mallory, and Mary-Louise Parker is instantly sympathetic as their mother Helen. David Strathairn and Joan Plowright as Arthur and Lucinda Spiderwick round out the human cast with their acting prowess. The voice actors are equally well-cast, from Martin Short as Thimbletack (who doesn’t rhyme as frequently as he should) to Seth Rogen as Hogsqueal and Nick Nolte as Mulgarath.
Upon its release, The Spiderwick Chronicles was criticized for using so much CGI, but I think it’s used judiciously for the most part. The close-up of Jared throwing the Seeing Stone to Mallory wasn’t necessary, but ultimately, the griffin ride was the only scene in which the filmmakers threw in special effects just to show off what they could do. Everything else is used to awesome or scary effect, as is the fitting James Horner score. The final battle in the house is especially thrilling (considering it wasn’t shown in the book), though it’s also surprisingly intense for a Nickelodeon movie, with goblin arms being chopped off and heads melting and so forth. It’s great spectacle, though Mulgarath’s dialogue consists almost entirely of ”Give me the book” over and over again.
Just as the film version of Eragon made one notably welcome addition to the story in having Brom die astride Saphira, this movie improves the final moment between Arthur Spiderwick and Lucinda. Rather than have him just turn to dust like in the books, they are both taken by the faeries to live together forever. It’s much more touching and ends the movie on a high note of poignancy.
The Spiderwick Chronicles indicates there are fantastic things unseen in this world of ours; I haven’t seen any brownies in my house yet, but I’ll keep an eye out. (Maybe I’ll just make some of the chocolate kind.)
Best line: (truck driver, after running over a troll) “Oh, my God! Did I hit someone?” (Jared) “Yes! Thank you!”Artistry: 5 Characters/Actors: 6 Entertainment: 7 Visual Effects: 8 Originality: 7 Watchability: 7 Other (some violence): -2 TOTAL: 38 out of 60
Next: #237 – Unbreakable
© 2014 S. G. Liput
105 Followers and Counting