Paramount // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // July 4th, 2008
Their world is closer than you think.
I had never heard of The Spiderwick Chronicles before I first walked into the film back in February, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. One thing I really like about this movie is that it shows no intention of becoming the next Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. It's a straightforward and entertaining family adventure that puts more emphasis on offering its viewers a great time rather than spending too much time on constructing a deep meaning or conveying yet another standard moral.
Based on the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, the film introduces us to twin brothers Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore), who, along with their sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger, In America) and their mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds), move into a secluded house that once belonged to their great-great uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn, The Bourne Ultimatum).
One night, Jared stumbles across Spiderwick's precious field guide, a book filled with valuable information about a magical world ruled by fairies, ogres, and plenty of other mysterious creatures. Although the note on the cover clearly says no one should ever read the guide, Jared's curiosity pushes him to break the seal, which opens a portal to a secret world and awakens a merciless monster named Mulgarath. With time running against them, Jared and his siblings have to uncover the secrets of the book before Mulgarath and his army of ogres can carry out their mischievous plans to rule the world.
Unlike many films of the same genre, The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn't waste much time setting up its main storyline. Instead, it jumps straight into the middle of the action, offering viewers plenty of first-class entertainment for the next 90 or so minutes. The script by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, and John Sayles boasts tons of inventive and suspenseful sequences, most of which keep the plot operating at a fast pace throughout. I also appreciate the filmmakers' efforts to keep the film engaging despite its overall simple story. The protagonists spend most of the movie protecting the field guide and thinking about ways to defeat the ogres, but not one second of it is boring or repetitive. At the same time, they also have to work out their differences and learn how to fight as a team; a challenge that adds a little bit of extra suspense to the global atmosphere.
Having said that, The Spiderwick Chronicles is still a family-themed movie, which means you'll also probably come across some familiar themes in the main storyline. But as I mentioned earlier, the film doesn't try to impose any morals on its viewers. It quite simply shows how unexpected, dangerous circumstances can bring a dysfunctional family back together. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this formula as long as it doesn't overshadow the rest of the adventure, and, in this case, it certainly doesn't.
Another reason why The Spiderwick Chronicles delivers excellent entertainment is Mark Waters' stylish direction, which already proved to be very effective in his previous flicks Just Like Heaven, Mean Girls, and Freaky Friday. Not only is Waters a dab hand at creating refreshing movies that are easy to follow and enjoy, but he also injects every of his projects with incredible imagination and energy. This immediately leads me to the flick's magical universe, which is quite simply astounding. The production design is gorgeous, the creatures are highly original, and the special effects are quite simply impressive. The looks of the environment are just as important as a solid script in a flick of this genre, and I am happy to announce The Spiderwick Chronicles has got it all.
Freddie Highmore plays both Simon and Jared, and he does a fabulous job at portraying twin brothers who couldn't be more different. While Simon is more the shy type of person who tends to avoid conflict, Jared is the rebel who always speaks his mind and likes to explore new territories. But Highmore is so good in this, he even may fool you into thinking the two boys onscreen are actually two different actors. In the role of the boys' sister Mallory, Sarah Bolger delivers a solid performance, although her character is a little less intriguing than expected. Seth Rogen and Martin Short lend their voices to some of the film's computer-animated characters, which add a little bit of humor to the overall more serious plot.
The Blu-ray edition of the film features a stunning picture quality, and the 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer delivers just what you would expect from a first-class HD format. The image is clean and sharp throughout, and most of the CGI figures look astonishingly real. Add an awesome 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio transfer to that, and you got a disc with impeccable technical aspects.
Special features are always helpful if you want to learn more about the production of a feature film, but special features that are helpful and in high definition are undoubtedly a nice treat. As expected, the Blu-ray edition of The Spiderwick Chronicles is loaded with tones of extras, some of which may also appeal to the younger viewers. Besides the usual trailers and a couple of deleted scenes, the bonus material includes "It's a Spiderwick World," an interesting 8-minute featurette about how the creators of the books came up with the original idea for the series. More impressive however is "Making Spiderwick," a highly informative 20-minute behind-the-scenes look with plenty of cast and crew interviews, footage from the set, and select scenes from the movie.
If that's not enough for you, make sure to watch "The Magic of Spiderwick," a brief but extensive look at the post-production of the film with a focus on the creation of the special effects. If you're not that interested in the technical stuff of the film and would rather learn more about the actors and the characters they portray, then "Meet the Clan" could come in quite handy. In this enlightening 13-minute featurette, members of the cast talks about their experience during the shooting and how much fun it was to be part of a film set in a magical world full of fairies and ogres. This interesting piece also focuses on the shooting of the scenes in which both Simon and Jared are present. With Freddie Highmore playing both characters, these shots were a little trickier to set up.
Kids should have fun clicking through Arthur Spiderwick's field guide, an interactive feature that gives them the opportunity to read all about the creatures in the film. The bonus material also includes an in-movie version of the guide, which offers viewers additional information about the magical world during the feature film. There's definitely something for everyone in the special feature section.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is certainly not the most spectacular or captivating film of its kind, but it is imaginative and magical enough to entertain youngsters and grown-ups alike. In fact, it's the simplicity and straightforwardness of the story that gives the movie its charm and distinguishes it from other productions. After all, not every fantasy film has to be as pompous as the Harry Potter flicks, right?
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Spiderwick: It's All True!"
* "It's a Spiderwick World"
* "Spiderwick: Meet the Clan"
* "Making Spiderwick"
* "The Magic of Spiderwick"
* "A Final Word of Advice"
* "Spiderwick's Field Guide"
* In-Movie version of "Spiderwick's Guide"
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site