A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

April 7, 2011

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Freddie Highmore and Freddie Highmore star in… The Spiderwick Chronicles. I read these books one weekend a couple years back because, well, my wife works in a library and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. They’re quick, fun, interesting books that reminded me of childhood favorites like The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I love tales of regular people interacting with the magical but dangerous realm of fairie and these books captured that perfectly. This movie adaptation crams a lot of scenes from four or five books into a single film and spices things up with some big action scenes, which is how these sort of things get done I suppose. I enjoyed it well enough I suppose but it lacked a certain charm that the books had.

As with the books the movie centers on young Jared Grace, his twin brother Simon, his elder sister Mallory and his mother Helen. They have just moved out to the country to the home of Helen’s crazy aunt: a dilapidated and run down old house far from the city where they grew up. Jared in particular is upset by this move because he wants to stay with his father. Jared is, we are told, prone to fits of anger that have gotten him into a great deal of trouble in the past. His family kind of holes that a change of scenery will help to calm him down and make him easier to live with.

It is not fated to be, however. Behind the kitchen wall Jared discovers a dumbwaiter which he rides up to a secret study hidden deep inside the house. There he makes a wonderful find; he discovers Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. His great great uncle, you see, had at one time compiled a guide to fairies, boggarts, nixies, goblins, and all the other mythical woodland beasts that lived around his house. He catalogued them and observed their habitats. He befriended them. Unfortunately his guide was also his downfall because it revealed secrets about the magical creatures in its pages which could be used to find and destroy them. An evil ogre named Mulgarath set his sights upon capturing the tome, ad Arthur Spiderwick hid it in desperation deep inside his house. Then he vanished, leaving his daughter alone. This was eighty years ago. Now his daughter, Jared’s great aunt Lucinda is believed to be insane and resides in a sanitarium.

When Jared discovers the book and starts to read it the whole process begins again. He needs to convince his siblings that he is not insane and find a way to protect the book from Mulgarath.

All of this is roughly the same in the books, but there’s more leisure to explore the characters and the magical world they find themselves in. Because all of the books have been distilled here into a single ninety minutes things are a bit rushed, which I kind of regretted. One of the biggest advantages to the books are the intricate and detailed illustrations that give shape to the fairie world. Tony DiTerlizzi’s vision of faries and other magical creatures seems heavily influenced by Brian Froud and other artists in the genre – they’re gorgeous and spellbinding. I never found any of the many, many digital creatures that inhabit this movie as captivating. Perhaps because we never really get an opportunity to just observe them. The time constraints of fitting so much plot into such a short space means that there’s not much time for introspection or artistry – everything has to keep moving quickly on to the next plot point.

It is a fun movie though. In what seems to be a standard happening for this kind of adaptation of a well loved children’s book there’s some great star power in evidence. The ever wonderful David Strathairn, for example is Arthur Spiderwick. Lucinda is not so much the broken, hunched, brittle woman I remember from the books, but that is because she is played by the effervescent Joan Plowright. There are Nick Nolte and Andrew McCarthy in very brief cameos, and the voices of Seth Rogen and Martin Short. The real stars of the movie are Sarah Bolger as Mallory and Freddie Highmore as the twins. It’s especially a joy to watch Freddie since he spends so much time talking to and interacting with himself – playing two very different brothers. It’s some great acting in terms of giving such different characters to the two roles and it’s also impressive that he works with the special effects necessary to blend him with himself so effortlessly that its hard not to think that the movie doesn’t actually star twins. (Freddie doesn’t have a twin brother we don’t know about, does he?)

Watching Freddie in this dual role makes me look forward to some other movies that do the same thing. Amanda and I are thinking about getting the original Hailey Mills Parent Trap for example. And I’ve always wanted to get Adaptation with Nick Cage playing the Kaufman brothers who were credited with adapting that screenplay and were nominated for an Oscar for it. (I have always regretted that they didn’t win that – it would have been the first Oscar ever awarded to a fictional character I think. But that’s a different review for a different day.) For tonight I will simply say that while this movie is not without its merits I very much preferred the books.

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

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