Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and David Berenbaum
and John Sayles
Directed by Mark Waters
Running Time: 1:32
for scary creature action and violence,
peril and some thematic elements.
The Spiderwick Chronicles was a decent family film that has some good special effects, but a story that wasn't as engaging as it could have been.
Jared, Mallory and Simon Grace are forced by their newly single mother to move to an old house owned by their great aunt. She was sent to an asylum at a very young age when she claimed her father was taken by fairies right in front of her eyes. The kids aren't too excited to move from their old lives, especially troublemaker Jared. But he unwittingly discovers a secret that has been buried for 80 years. When he finds a book written by his great, great uncle he opens a door between worlds in which creatures hidden from human eyes come out of the woodwork to try and steal the book. The book is a guide to the creatures' world and within the pages lies a way for the evil Mulgrath to take over the human world and kill everyone in it. It is up to the Grace kids to fight the good fight and save the world as we know it.
The one thing I noticed about The Spiderwick Chronicles was that it felt a little scary for younger kids. I think it'll probably be OK for pre-teens on up, but kids under the age of 11 or 12 may find it to be too much. The film took off pretty much from the start. There was a short build up as we meet the characters, but almost immediately upon arriving at the new house, the action starts. The movie has a short 90+ minute running time and pretty much throughout the movie something is going on. There are a few dead spots but the visuals of the film were entertaining enough to keep my eyes on the screen. What I had a big problem with was the overall story and how it played out. It wasn't nearly as strong as it could have been with story elements that were simply uninteresting.
First off, while Freddie Highmore is a very good actor, especially for someone his age, he's British and this was the first movie where he tried to pull off an American accent. I found it very distracting because it sounded extremely forced. And considering he was playing two different characters (twin brothers Jared and Simon) there were twice as many times where I cringed. I realize it may have been weird if he had a British accent while everyone else was an American, but there was no reason why they couldn't have changed the location of the film to suit the actor, or simply found another actor. I'm not picking on him because I do like him in his other films, but this time around it just didn't work for me. Dawg.
Then there was the story. In a nutshell, the movie is about three kids fighting off strange creatures that no one can see (unless a weird hog-like creature spits in your eye - you had to be there). It's a fairly typical kind of story that usually plays out in a standard way, much like this one did. But for some reason I just never got into the plot. There was something about the movie that held me at an arms length. I never cared about any of the characters, human or otherwise. I didn't find the 'bad' guys all that scary even though they were extremely violent and bloodthirsty. The hog-like creature was the only one that I really enjoyed, and he was mostly comic relief. It was as if the movie's budget was spent on the special effects and not as much on the script. No one had anything interesting to say. The dialogue between the siblings and between the kids and their mom was very basic. Every conversation they had could have been predicted a few minutes before they happened. I've never read any of the books the movie was based on, so I can't say if the film is faithful to the stories. I also therefore don't know if they dialogue within the books is as stilted. Books have a way of covering poor dialogue more than movies.
The rest of the cast was reasonable enough. Martin Short and Seth Rogan were entertaining doing a couple of voices. Nick Nolte was almost unrecognizable as the evil Mulgrath. There were some heavy hitters in the film too with Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright and David Strathairn. Unfortunately they were all hit with the same problem the kids had, and that was having to deal with straight-laced and uninteresting dialogue. They're all likeable actors but the characters didn't have any depth and therefore I never really cared about any of them.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I thought The Spiderwick Chronicles was a so-so film. It had potential to be a good kids adventure film, but the story and dialogue never let the movie elevate into greatness. It has some good special effects and the visual element was strong, but not enough to raise the overall feel of the film.
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