The Spiderwick Chronicles [Blu-Ray]
Director : Mark Waters
Screenplay : Karey Kirkpatrick and David Berenbaum and John Sayles (based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Freddie Highmore (Jared Grace / Simon Grace), Mary-Louise Parker (Helen Grace), Nick Nolte (Mulgarath), Sarah Bolger (Mallory Grace), Andrew McCarthy (Richard), Joan Plowright (Aunt Lucinda), David Strathairn (Arthur Spiderwick), Seth Rogen (Hogsqueal), Martin Short (Thimbletack), Jordy Benattar (Young Lucinda)
Based on a popular series of children’s books, The Spiderwick Chronicles follows the adventures of three kids who move into the dilapidated estate of their eccentric great uncle and discover a world of magical creatures in the woods just beyond the house. The trick is that they don’t enter an alternate universe ala The Chronicles of Narnia; rather, they become aware that these creatures have always coexisted with them, but invisibly. It’s not so much a journey as it is an awakening. Like the Harry Potter series, The Spiderwick Chronicles plays with the idea that there is a magical realm just around the corner of which most people are largely, if not completely, unaware.
The film’s young hero is actually two characters: a pair of twins named Jared and Simon Grace, both of whom are played by Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland). Jared is the rebellious twin, who struggles with anger-management issues after his parents’ divorce, while Simon is quiet and introspective. Not surprisingly, it is Jared who first discovers the existence of the magical creatures when he follows a hidden dumbwaiter into the secret office of Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) and discovers the field guide he had compiled eight decades earlier. Despite a dire warning on the front cover, Jared opens it anyway, which unleashes the power of Mulgarath (voiced by Nick Nolte), an ogre who wants to get his hands on the field guide because it contains all the secrets and knowledge of the faerie world, which he can then use to destroy it.
Not surprisingly, no one at first believes Jared, including Simon, his struggling mom (Mary-Louise Parker), and his older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger). Simon learns firsthand what’s happening when he’s abducted by Mulgarath’s army of goblins and must be rescued by Jared (who gets a moderate amount of help from an easily distracted hobgoblin named Hogsqueal, who is amusingly voiced by Seth Rogen). Mallory also soon learns the secret, which ultimately means that it’s up to the kids to save the day. The clock starts ticking when Mulgarath gets his hands on part of the field guide and learns how to undo the protective circle Arthur Spiderwick had build around the house, and the film climaxes with a generally enthralling home invasion that brings to mind everything from war movies to Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Aside from its effective deployment of adventure-story stalwarts like hidden passageways and family secrets, one of the best things that can be said about The Spiderwick Chronicles is that director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) finds a deft balance between its positioning as children’s entertainment and a slightly darker sensibility. Part of this derives from the notably smart screenplay that was written by a trio of gifted writers with surprisingly diverse experiences: Karey Kirkpatrick, who wrote Chicken Run (2000) and has adapted such diverse projects as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and Charlotte’s Web (2006); David Berenbaum, the mind behind Elf (2003); and indie film legend John Sayles, who has a track record of contributing to screenplays that make potentially bad movies much better than you would expect (e.g., 1978’s Jaws-knock-off Piranha) .
The fact that Jared, Simon, and Mallory come from a broken family in which the father has clearly left for greener pastures creates an underlying emotional tension that gives the story’s fantastical elements more weight. The idea of children disappearing into magical worlds of their own making to escape the pain of the real one is nothing new, and the twist here is that the magical realm is both real and coexistent. The discovery that there are faeries and trolls and goblins and ogres is an intriguing metaphor for the adolescent discovery of both the triumphs and pains of love, which we see writ large in Jared’s face when he excitedly talks to his dad on the phone, hoping for a rescue, but finding only rejection. No wonder the poor kid has anger-management issues, and the fact that the film works such inner turmoil into the fabric of the story gives it a genuine emotional edge that is all too often lacking in movies aimed at kids.
|The Spiderwick Chronicles Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Portuguese, Spanish|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 24, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel certainly brought a beautiful and vibrant look to The Spiderwick Chronicles that is nicely mastered on this full 1080p Blu-Ray disc. The sharp image is popping with detail, from the various cobwebby artifacts in Arthur Spiderwick’s study, to the various creatures with their horns, wings, feathers, and snouts. Color is beautifully reproduced throughout, whether it be the inky blues of the nighttimes scenes or the vibrant rainbow colors of the fantasy world where Spiderwick resides. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise fantastic, with both subtle detail during the quieter scenes and plenty of bombast and fury during the action sequences, especially during the house siege at the end when Molgowrath and his goblins are tearing up the Spiderwick mansion. The surround channels are frequently in full force, and the LFE channel gives the soundtrack’s various crashes and explosions plenty of oomph.|
|The supplements start out on a rather silly note with “Spiderwick: It’s All True!” (9 min.), a featurette in which director Mark Waters talks directly to kids watching the DVD and, before introducing all the major creatures, insists that everything in the movie is true (parents may not appreciate him telling viewers to spread salt around them for protection). A better introduction to the creatures can be found in “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide,” which is divided in 10 chapters, each of which offers a description and illustration of a creature in the story, as well as a clip from the film in which said creature appears. After that, the featurettes delve into the making of the film, starting with “It’s a Spiderwick World!” (9 min.), which features interviews with authors Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (who say that their impetus for writing the book was a letter from three kids in Maine claiming they had experiences with faeries), producers Kathleen Kennedy and Mark Canton, and co-screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick. “Spiderwick: Meet the Clan!” (14 min.) focuses on the characters and includes interviews with all the main actors, including Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Andrew McCarthy, and Seth Rogen, who not surprisingly is the focus of quite a bit of recording-session footage. There is also quite a bit of emphasis on how Highmore and Bolger--the former English, the latter Irish--mastered perfect American accents to play “normal” American kids (to their credit, I thought they were completely convincing). “Making Spiderwick!” (21 min.) is a standard making-of featurette, while “The Magic of Spiderwick!” (14 min.) focuses exclusively on the various special effects, both digital and practical. Also included are four deleted scenes (8 min. total), which are really extensions of scenes already in the film, 9 TV spots that ran on Nickelodeon, and two theatrical trailers.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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