Movie review: “The Spiderwick Chronicles”

The Spiderwick Chronicles) (2008) is a film adaption of the fantasy series of the same name, written by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (trailer here.)

The plot is quite straightforward: A recently divorced mother, Mrs Grace (Marie-Louise Parker) moves into the abandoned and run-down Spiderwick Estate in New England with her three children: older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and twins Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore, who impressively manages to keep the personalities quite distinct and different from each other). The house, as befits all magical adventures, is an ancient, creaking multi-storey, with an attic, hidden passageways and secret rooms.

Jared, the more rebellious of the twins (he is very angry that his father has left them), discovers a hidden laboratory replete with dirt-covered and dusty glass jars and bottles containing odd things… He also discovers a locked trunk, inside of which he finds a big heavy leatherbound book, wrapped up with string, with a warning note tucked into it, cautioning him NOT to read it, or face the deadly consequences.

Well, there wouldn’t have been a movie if he’d been a good boy and tucked the mysterious book back where it belonged.

It turns out that the book (Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You) had been written by Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), who I think must be his great-uncle.

It contains detailed sketches and descriptions of all the magical creatures Arthur discovered in the surrounding woods: faeries, brownies (who turn into boggarts when you don’t treat them well – so they are different to the ones from Harry Potter, which take on the shape of your deepest fear), hobgoblins, griffins, elves, sylphs, sprites, pixies, but also gobblins and a shape shifting ogre called Mulgarath, who is a seriously frightening baddie – as well as recipes for potions and spells and such-like.

Unfortunately, Mulgarath knows the book exists, and he will stop at nothing to get his hands on it, so that he can use all the knowledge it contains to destroy the pretty little creatures.

The review titled “A House Divided by Old Magic and New Residents” in the New York Times was quite scathing and dismissive. I, too, thought that it was not nearly as good, nor as paradoxically realistic and convincing as The Lord of the Rings, or the Harry Potter series, or even the first movie of the His Dark Materials series (The Golden Compass).

But it was light entertainment which any kids in your household should enjoy.

Incidentally, the authors (Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi) keep a blog on which they interact with fans of the series, though it hasn’t been updated since March this year. You can also have a look at the website of the movie – I particularly loved the art gallery, which contains some amazing sketches of magical creatures.

I much prefer reading a story like this, because the images that you can conjure up in your mind in response to a couple of tantalising pencil sketches and descriptions can be far more multi-layered, and far more funny or frightening than seeing a CGI version on the big screen that the cynical movie-watcher in you knows was filmed primarily against a blue screen.

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Other movies we’ve watched in July:  

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