A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 403 – The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles – April 7th, 2011

I should state up front that it has been years since I read any of the books that this movie is based on. Back when they first came out we knew at work that they’d be hot commodities. After all they were short, fantasy based in the real world (or starting there anyhow), male and female protagonists and that’s not touching the physical shape of the books. They’re small. Made to look like little journals, almost. And we were right. They were popular from the start and they’ve never really gone out of favor. The thing is, when a book or series is that popular, I usually don’t go back to it.

Popular series don’t need my help. Something that got as popular as this? I don’t need to do much to talk it up. I read the books when they came out and then I let the kids take them. So, going into this tonight I admit, I honestly remembered very little of the specific events. I remembered the general overview and I remembered the characters and I remembered the Field Guide itself and details of the world the story is set in, but events? No. Which, to be honest, is a little frustrating for me. When a movie is based on a book that I’ve read, I like to be able to spot the changes and alterations. Sometimes they make for interesting review fodder and sometimes they’re just plain interesting. Or inexplicable. And I couldn’t do that tonight. I had to watch this movie largely on its own merits.

And on its own merits? It’s a perfectly nice kids’ fantasy adventure movie. It’s not breaking any records or doing anything revolutionary, but it’s fun. Oh, I’ve got quibbles, but I enjoyed it, so that counts a lot in its favor. What counts even more in its favor is that one of the key elements of the books – something I do remember – was kept in. The books revolve around the Grace family: twins Simon and Jared, their older sister Mallory, their mother and their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Spiderwick discovered and studied all of the supernatural creatures that lived around his home in the country. Pixies, brownies, goblins, dragons, trolls, griffins, fairies and so on. He wrote up all his findings in a book and then discovered that having all the secrets of creatures who preferred to be hidden might be a little dangerous (duh). He disappeared one day, leaving his young daughter alone. We pick up with the Graces moving into his old house and Jared discovering the field guide, then getting targeted by an ogre who wants the book.

The thing I loved? Mallory. She’s the older sister and she fences. What? I like swords! And a book for kids involving a modern girl who fences? Fantastic. They kept her fencing in the movie and I am thrilled that they did. They could have left it out, made her less useful in comparison to the twins. And she does play the skeptic role for a little bit, but soon enough she knows that what Jared claims is truly going on and teams up with him and Simon. I love seeing them work cooperatively even as they bicker like siblings do. I love seeing Mallory fight off goblins with her sword and be utterly competent throughout the movie. Fantastic. Really though, I enjoyed the whole family. The family drama of the parents’ divorce and all seemed like an afterthought to give the story an emotional “real world” element, but since it is such an afterthought it doesn’t make much of an impression upon me. Otherwise, the family is nicely presented, with problems and arguments but ultimately loving and supportive of each other.

The other major factor that makes the books so popular (in my opinion) is the magical creatures and the discovery of them. I remember loving the concept of there being a guide to the creatures themselves and indeed, there is a published version of it, full of sketches and hand-written notes. The trouble is that something like that doesn’t translate well to a moving picture, so we discover the creatures on the screen and rely on people looking at the book and reading bits aloud. While that mimics some of how it must have gone in the books, it doesn’t quite feel right. Not something one could get around, really, which is a pity. They did well overall, but I kept feeling like there was so much I was missing. Part of that, however, is that this movie is an amalgamation of the five book series. Of course things are combined and elided and cut out. Each book is far too short to make a whole movie, so I don’t argue with the combination. Overall it works a little smoother than, say, A Series of Unfortunate Events, which only took the first three and followed each one through introduction, exposition, climax and resolution. But it feels sparse in places, with effects and action taking the place of the exploration I was hoping for.

Still, as I said, I enjoyed the movie. I had fun watching it and not just because it had David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick. I liked all the different creatures and I enjoyed the performances, especially Freddie Highmore pulling a Parent Trap to play both twins. I loved Mallory, played nicely by Sarah Bolger. Mulgarath was just threatening enough, even if I did feel he could have benefitted from a little more nuanced motivation. But until I go back and read the books and see if there’s more nuance there I can’t really blame the movie there. Regardless of its issues, it’s a fun movie to watch, with plenty of positives and a nicely crafted fantastical world.

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April 7, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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