THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES

Is it me, or are children's films just getting weirder and weirder?

Directed by Mark Waters Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and David Berenbaum and John Syles. Based on the books by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black Starring Freddie Highmore,Sarah Bolger,Mary-Louise Parker,Joan Plowright,Nick Nolte,David Strathairn,Seth Rogen,Martin Short, and Andrew McCarthy FILM:

rating:2.5

DVD:

rating:3

The world of children's literature usually falls into one of two camps: the rare, intricately-detailed universes filled with great plotting and characterization, and then everything else. THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is, for the most part, in the latter group. The story involves a troubled family; single mother (MARY-LOUISE PARKER) takes her daughter (SARAH BOLGER) and twin boys (both played by FREDDIE HIGHMORE) to a spooky castle belonging to her long-lost relative, Professor Spiderwick (DAVID STRATHAIRN). There, one of the boys finds a book about magical creatures and how to find them. Unlocking its secrets, he soon owns the most-wanted object of a terrible ogre named Mulgarath (voiced by NICK NOLTE). During their adventures, they uncover Spiderwick's sad destiny. The films overflows with special effects, most of which work remarkably well. In fact, the film manages to achieve a certain amount of magical suspension of disbelief, especially with wondrous creations like the Sylphs and other flower-based fairies. Even some of the gaudier effects, like the ones used to give life to main villain Mulgarath, work fairly well and provide quite a bit of tension and realism. However, the best special effect in the film is the amazing FREDDIE HIGHMORE in his dual performance as the twins Jared and Simon. A British actor, Highmore not only affects a perfect American accent, but he also manages to carve out distinct personalities for both characters in the process. Even in a cast as large and as seasoned as this one, Highmore is a revelation. He easily makes one forget the long-standing elevation of Dakota Fanning as the wonderchild acting prodigy of the century. I think the main fault of the film comes from the general storyline of the series itself. Far too much of it feels derivative of other films/stories featuring gryphons and fairies and such. Beyond that, the storyline fails to achieve dramatic liftoff due to a misshapen plot involving Porfessor Spiderwick and his lost daughter, which is presented here as the crucial climax despite being shunted to the sidelines throughout most of the film. Since the emotional element is never properly in place, we are left to casually watch frantic special effects work. While much of that is beautifully rendered, it often fails to captivate the way it should. What seems to be lacking is a basic understanding of the world and its workings. The Narnia and Lord of the Rings books had their battle of good and evil on an epic scale, involving vast conflicts and a wide range of personalities. Here, the conflict is over a book. It feels and is quite small and trivial in comparison. Meanwhile, we are given a complex and fairly silly set of rules that govern the universe (mysterious circles, salt lines, and tomato sauce, etc.) which are just too nonsensical to really matter. The end result is a fantasy film that feels arbitrary rather than believable. It is a shame, given the amount of talent in front and behind the camera. EXTRAS This is a spectacular 2-disc set, perfect for kids and movie-loving adults. FIRST DISC Besides the movie itself, you get: SPIDERWICK: IT'S ALL TRUE! - Director Waters hosts a cute look at the world of Spiderwick. Kids will love it. IT'S A SPIDERWICK WORLD - Another Waters-hosted trip through Spiderwick, with a fun peek at the creatures that inhabit the film. Again, they will love it. ARTHUR SPIDERWICK'S FIELD GUIDE - A fun and fascinating look at the detailed book upon which the film is based. DISC TWO SPIDERWICK: MEET THE CLAN - An excellent introduction to the talented cast of the film. What an assemblage! MAKING SPIDERWICK - A comprehensive look at the making of the film. I can't believe the expense behind this monstrous production! THE MAGIC OF SPIDERWICK - An extensive look at the special effects. Very detailed and interesting! PACKAGING I love the packaging. The disc is bound together with a velcro-secured strip, mimicking the Spiderwick field guide. Awesome!! OVERALL The film will probably register well with youngsters simply because of the wide array of fascinating monsters, as well as the likeable turn by Highmore. It's not a bad film, just somewhat lazy and narratively dull. But any fan of the film or the books will probably appreciate this DVD, which certainly brings this world to life in excruciating detail.
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All you need to know is that I love movies and baseball. I write about both on a temporary medium known as the Internet. Twitter: @rayderousse or @unfilteredlens1 Go St. Louis Cardinals! www.stlcardinalbaseball.com