Film review: The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), directed by Mark Waters
Occasionally, you come across a film that makes you smile from the sheer inventiveness of the story. Adventure and using old things in new ways and everything. The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of those films. The Grace family – that is, mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker, who I’ve adored since Fried Green Tomatoes), teenage daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and twin boys Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore – Charlie of the Johnny Depp Chocolate Factory) – move into an old house decidedly not in New York. Helen has split up with her husband and they had nowhere else to go than to the gloomy old place where old Aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright) used to live. She’s now living in a home, because she says her father was abducted by fairies when she was a child.
As it turns out, the old woman isn’t as dotty as everyone thinks. Her father, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), was a scientist and he discovered how to see the fairy realm, and took lots of notes and made it into a book. Every strength and weakness of every fairy creature. Needless to say, it would be very bad for that book to fall into the wrong hands – like the evil ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who wants nothing else than to wipe out all his fellow fairies.
Armed with ketchup, a hungry hobgoblin (voiced by Seth Rogen) and honey-loving brownie (voiced by Martin Short), the Grace children fall into having to protect Spiderwick’s book from Mulgarath and saving their home from a fairytale invasion.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is very enjoyable. I love the concept of the fairy realm and how the fey creatures interact with humans, and it gave me lots of interesting ideas for stories. Or, I should say, “oh yeah, fairies. Never thought of that, what a good idea!” It’s not a complex story by any means (being a film aimed at an audience about, what, a third my age?), but it doesn’t have to be to be enjoyable by adults who like a good adventure story.
Formulaic, yes, because of course the troublemaking child is the one who discovers the book (and opens it, even though it had a note saying “DO NOT OPEN” on it) and who isn’t believed by his siblings until they end up in danger. Their mum, bless her, is of course clueless.
CGI was pretty good, making the fairies come to life (I particularly liked the ones that looked like flowers). If there’s anything I would criticise, it’s Freddie Highmore. He had a bunch of extremely talented and experienced actors to carry him through in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but here, he’s on his own, and I don’t think he’s quite strong enough an actor yet to be able to pull that off. He often has to act against himself as well, seeing as how he plays a pair of twins. It’s a valiant effort on his part, but whenever he’s meant to look at his other self, it looks slightly off and therefore unconvincing. Couldn’t they just have got a pair of actual twins to play those parts?
There were a few other parts where I thought the things on screen didn’t convince, like climbing out in a ketchup-splattered kitchen … and hands leaving no smears on the cupboards … which you would, if they had actually just had ketchup exploding all over them. Other slip-ups were a bit groanworthy (“WTF did you go and do that for, you idiot?!”) but yeah, all in all, it’s a good and fast-paced adventure.
3.8 out of 5 sabres.