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Review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles
02.14.2008
6 10

Plot: Newly single mother Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) moves with her children Mallory, and twins Jared & Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore) into a secluded old house in upstate New York- which was once owned by her great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). While poking through the house, Jared discovers a book written by Spiderwick- which carries a warning that Jared promptly ignores. The book is actually a field guide that explains that their estate is actually inhabited by numerous mystical creatures, including the evil Lord Mulgrath (voiced by Nick Nolte)- who wants to destroy the guide- which is the only thing stopping him from taking over the magical realm that the Graces now find themselves a part of.

Review: Oh great- another kiddie fantasy film. How exciting! It seems that every other month we have another one of these films. Like the numerous other fantasy films that have come out recently, THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is based on a series of children’s books. I suppose Paramount/ DreamWorks are hoping that this film will spawn a whole series of films- which I’m afraid doesn’t look all that likely.

It’s not that THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is a particularly bad film. It’s actually fairly entertaining and unlike THE GOLDEN COMPASS, there’s not even a hint of anything subversive in the plot, so it won’t likely offend anyone. The problem is that there’s a big “been there, done that” feeling throughout the film- as it offers absolutely nothing new to the genre.

The film is directed by Mark Waters- marking his first foray into big budget, large scale filmmaking- as his last few films have been small scale comedies (FREAKY FRIDAY, MEAN GIRLS, JUST LIKE HEAVEN). He does a good job with the reported $100 million budget. The look of the film is great- as it was actually shot in Montreal (home sweet home), which doubles pretty well for upstate New York. As 90% of the movie takes place in a forest we get lots of lush greens, which are photographed by master cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. I’m sure the IMAX version of this film will be stunning- although even in plain 35mm it looked great. The special effect work is also pretty strong- with creature work by Phil Tippett (STAR WARS, ROBOCOP, etc.).


The cast is also top-notch, led by Mary-Louise Parker as the Grace family matriarch, who gets in on the action in the third act. Freddie Highmore is good in his dual role- where he plays rebellious twin Jared, and the quieter Simon. The only problem here is that Simon has a pretty passive role in the action, and his character could have easily been changed into either a non-twin- which probably would have saved the filmmakers some serious coin, or even eliminated entirely. Newcomer Sarah Bolger is also good as the boys’ older sister Mallory- although it’s really Highmore’s film, and she takes a backseat in the action.

A few big names turn up as the voices of the various magical creatures that make-up this fantasy realm. Martin Short & Seth Rogen are on hand as the good creatures (although don’t expect any KNOCKED UP style humor from Rogen, as this one’s strictly for the kiddies), and Nick Nolte of all people turns up as the big baddie. Nolte actually appears in the film as a human incarnation of his character in one brief scene- although in truth Nolte really sticks out like a sore thumb in a film like this. He’s not exactly the first actor I think of when I imagine an evil wizard. I guess Ian McKellen was busy.

All in all, I enjoyed THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES when I was watching it- but it’s the type of film you’ll forget minutes after leaving the theater. However, I’m sure the kids will get a big kick out of it- and really, they’re the ones this movie is for.

Grade: 6/10

Source: JoBlo.com

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