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When Jared and Simon and Mallory Grace
Move into their great-aunt’s old house,
They are not all pleased with this ominous place
And hear scurrying (not a mouse).
Their great-aunt Lucinda went nuts here, they say,
Thinking faeries and goblins were real,
And Jared is eager to leave the next day,
But his family’s less than ideal.
He’s mad at his mother for leaving his dad,
But he’s not aware of it all.
When they cannot locate possessions they had,
They find them concealed in the wall.
The others aren’t curious; young Jared, though,
Ascends to the attic to look.
He finds a strange field guide composed long ago
With a warning to not read the book.
He does and thus enters a world full of faeries,
Disguised and unseen in our own.
He learns this collection of entities varies
From friendly to bad to the bone.
He placates the brownie whose nest they revealed
And talks to this small Thimbletack.
He learns there’s a circle that acts as a shield
To keep ogre Mulgarath back.
But Simon is kidnapped by goblins outside,
And Jared runs after his bro.
They flee to the circle that guards the field guide,
And Mallory battles the foe.
Besieged by the goblins, they try to sneak out
To visit their Aunt Spiderwick.
They talk to Lucinda and ask her about
How best to resolve this, and quick.
She tells them that Arthur, her father, who wrote
The field guide, is living somehow.
The faeries have kept him, Lucinda does note,
So they must find Spiderwick now.
Astride his pet griffin, they find where he’s been,
But he cannot much help their plight.
So all the Grace children, unsure if they’ll win,
Return for a battle that night.
Convincing their mother that faeries exist,
They all plan to fight the foes back.
Since Mulgarath has a guide page to assist,
He strips off their shield to attack.
They come through the windows; they come through the floors.
They’re fought with tomatoes and steel.
The Graces do well, being new to such wars,
And melt all the goblins with zeal.
When Mulgarath tries to deceive with a trick,
It’s Jared that sees through a goof.
The ogre demands the book by Spiderwick
And chases the boy to the roof.
A strength of the ogre’s becomes his demise,
And now that he’s gone, all is calm.
Though he wished to leave, Jared’s come to realize
He’d much rather stay with his mom.
The Graces bring home Aunt Lucinda to stay,
But Spiderwick visits his love.
She leaves with her father when he goes away,
And all’s back to normal—sort of.

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

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