Friday, March 7, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles - mini-review

Let me get this off my chest before I go any further. I would have enjoyed this movie a whole lot more if the inconsiderate, loud, stupid family of ignorant noisy dumbasses had not been in the theater with me. You know, their kids didn't bother me. This is a kids' movie so there were bound to be kids in the audience. And it's pretty scary for a PG movie, and these kids were a little young for a PG rating anyhow, so of course they're going to screech a bit. And when it wasn't scary, there was a lot of exposition so of course the kids are going to fidget. I can forgive all that. What I can't forgive is the at-volume discussion on whether "free refills" on the giant, non-diet soda mean you can go back more than twice or not. Christ on a pony: you don't need the soda, you defintely don't need the refills, and you certainly don't need to talk about it while the movie (not even the previews - the actual movie) is on. Grrrrrrrr.

Okay. Rant over.

The Spiderwick Chronicles movie, based on the series of children's books of the same name, follows the adventures of Jared Grace, his twin brother Simon and his older sister Mallory as they move into a creepy old mansion and discover that there is much more to the world around them than they thought. The mansion belonged to the Grace children's crazy great-aunt Lucinda whose father, Arthur Spiderwick mysteriously disappeared after writing his Field Guide to the magical creatures of the world. The Graces move in when their parents split up: the kids' mom is struggling to hold her family, and herself, together; Jared is taking the separation very badly. Jared finds the Field Guide while he is rummaging around in a secret attic room - although it is marked with a warning, he reads it. His doing so alerts the fairy world that the Field Guide has been found and very quickly that world makes itself known to Jared and his siblings: the good fairies (brownies, sprites, hobgoblins, griffins) wish to protect the Guide; the bad fairies (goblins, trolls and a very nasty ogre king) want to obtain the Guide for themselves, as it contains all the secrets of the good fairies. Jared, Simon and Mallory are thrust headlong into this battle between good and evil.

Jared and Simon are played, with very nice effect, by the talented and wicked cute Freddie Highmore, most widely seen as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake. He does a remarkable job, being on screen nearly the entire film; not only is he believable as two separate personalities who really do act like brothers to each other (plus the twin special effects are impressive) but also with the depth of the struggle Jared goes through to reconcile himself with his parents' split. He's pretty heart-breaking. I read a review somewhere (and I don't remember where, I'm sorry) that said while the magic in this film is thrilling, what The Spiderwick Chronicles is really about is family. I would agree with that. The siblings squabble like siblings; Jared is a terrible brat to his mom (played by Mary Louise Parker who seems to be actually getting younger as the years go by - she looks more like an older sister than the Grace children's mother); but when it's all on the line, they figure out what's important, standing together against all the evil, be it a horde of goblins or, worse, an abandoning father.

The CGI is good (although I'm not sure how well it will translate to DVD) and there's a lot of it. There are really a lot of beasties in this movie: Thimbletack, the house brownie/boggart (voiced by Martin Short); Hogsqueal, the helpful hobgoblin with a fortunate taste for birds (Seth Rogen); Mulgarath the horrific ogre (Nick Nolte); the goblin horde; the swarms of sylphs and sprites; the outstanding griffin; and Andrew McCarthy in a cameo as the Bad Dad.

There is some scary stuff in here for sure; I'm guessing the youngest kids to see this movie got more than they - or their parents - bargained for. The ogre and his goblins are quite vicious - the kids get bitten and clawed and hurt. There is a lot of fighting and goblin blood and goo and gnashing of teeth. Not all of the terror is monsterific, however, as Jared blames his mom for his parents splitting up and there is some family in-fighting (his mom had promised not to yell if he promised not to hit things; both promises are broken under the strain). It all makes The Spiderwick Chronicles a better movie, however, since there's something more at stake than just the fairy realm.

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