In the days before Disney and over sensitivity, fairy tales were meant to scare the crap out of little kids. Go into the forest like you were told not to and you’ll get eaten by a wolf, take candy from strangers – especially those with warty noses – and you’ll end up getting thrown in a fire, build a house out of straw and another wolf is going to blow it down. But then we entered an age of heroes where naughty kids learned their lesson and got away with the very things they were warned against.
Based on the series of five serial children’s novels by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, Mark Waters’s The Spiderwick Chronicles tries to be a bit of a throwback offering all sorts of gross and slimy goblins and creatures. But ultimately it’s a hollow spectacle that’s good for the action and effects but light on everything else.
Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore), his twin brother Simon (Highmore doing a Parent Trap-esque double performance), his sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and his mother (Mary-Louise Parker) move into a creepy old mansion located in a forest in the middle of nowhere. Because kids will be kids, a round of exploring the house uncovers a mysterious field guide written by the family’s great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick. This isn’t your average journal with drawings but rather a window into a secret world of brownies, hobgoblins and all sorts of magical creatures. When Jared unknowingly takes the book outside of the house, a spell is broken and a battle for the field guide ensues.
The Spiderwick Chronicles succeeds in bringing the fantasy world to life with excellent CG effects and solid voice acting led by Nick Nolte as the nefarious Mulgarath, Martin Short as a bogart and Seth Rogen as a hobgoblin. The look of the film presents a nice balance between light and dark, slimy and scaly and real and imaginative. Likewise, the numerous action scenes are well laid out and fast paced. The effects are blended very nicely into the film, providing some unique takes and thrilling moments.
But for all the visual kudos for The Spiderwick Chronicles, there’s many other aspects that are lacking. There’s a lot of back story and subplots missing in this adaptation that shrinks five books into less than two hours. Granted, the books are a short, slick read filled with large print and full-page illustrations but the film sticks to Jared and the fight for the field guide. Yes, that is the most exciting part of the story, but there’s an empty feeling left due to the movie’s lack of depth. The Grace family is one-dimensional and left to characterization rather than character development. Even the fairy tale aspect is glossed over to a large extent in the name of action.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is ultimately a solid but disappointing adaptation that captures a magical world but fails to breathe life into it.
The Spiderwick Chronicles DVD Review
Like many Paramount DVD releases, The Spiderwick Chronicles comes in two separate editions. The two-disc Field Guide Edition includes the same stuff as the single-disc version, but there’s also some exclusive features on the bonus disc.
Two featurettes lead off the bonus content on the first disc. The first is entitled “Spiderwick: It’s All True” and tries to convince us that the film is a dramatization of an actual event and not some fairy tale. It breaks down several of the film’s creatures and features unconvincing commentary from director Mark Waters. “It’s a Spiderwick World!” explores the literary origins of the story.
A little more clever are the excerpts from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide. Not only does it illustrate and describe many of the film’s creatures, but it also includes links to specific points in the movie where they appear. The Field Guide can also be accessed during the film at certain points when the DVD’s in-movie mode is turned on.
Three additional featurettes are included on the second disc. “Spiderwick: Meet the Clan” looks at the characters and the actors who play them. “Making Spiderwick!” is your standard look at behind-the-scenes going ons. Special effects are the final piece of the featurette puzzle, which is taken care of in “The Magic of Spiderwick!”. Waters closes out the featurette part of the DVD and reminds us that everything is indeed real and that the movie is a recreation.
Additional features include four deleted scenes, nine TV spots shown on Nickelodeon and two theatrical trailers.
Creative packaging is fun and probably helps set different discs out but often when you get them home it’s difficult to store them. Such is the case with the two-disc Field Guide Edition DVD release of The Spiderwick Chronicles. The DVD is housed in a slipcover that includes an attractive but hard to store velcro wrap-around “seal.”
The Spiderwick Chronicles Gallery