Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Freddie Highmore has exploded into the movie world in the last several years. His schedule has only accelerated with August Rush, The Golden Compass, and now the Spiderwick Chronicles all within a few months of each other. This is yet another fantasy, but at least it's not an epic fantasy. It's more of an every day fantasy, if that makes any sense.

The Grace family- brothers Jared and Simon (both played by Highmore), Mallory (Sarah Bolger), and their mother, Helen (Mary-Louise Parker) moved into your typical old house in the forest following a messy divorce. After a labored exposition, Jared stumbles across a book written by Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). This book acts as an encyclopedia for an invisible world around them- a world filled with fairies, and goblins, and Nick Nolte. Mulgarath (Nolte), the king of the goblins wants possession of this book, because with it, he can gain unimaginable power. Now with the help of Martin Short and Seth Rogan (or at least their voices), they must prevent the book from falling into Mulgarath's hands.

I appreciated the fact that this movie took a different approach to fantasy than just about any other movie in recent years. It kept everything very close to home, showing the magic in the real world. It tries to tread the line between children's fantasy, and adult fantasy. Think of it as The Bridge to Terebithia meets Chronicles of Narnia. It doesn't settle into either one, though. As a result, I think it loses a clear audience.

The relationship between the family members is strained at best. Every scene is them yelling at each other. Interestingly, the whiniest one of all is the mother- Helen. The kids seemed to have more control than her. Highmore did a good job playing two integral characters, especially when they interact with each other. I just don't understand the point. Why do something that draws attention to itself like that. The problem with him and Bolger, however, is that even when they were yelling at each other, it seemed like they had smiles on their faces.

The visual effects and animation were decent, but not very inspired. All the creatures (except for some fairies) looked essentially the same. They were all ugly variants on toads with big mouths. They got the job done but they didn't make me say "wow" like the Golden Compass did. I never stopped thinking of these characters as effects, instead of characters.

It was a valiant attempt to bring fantasy into our own back yard, but I think that we've just been inundated with movies like these. And unless they are stellar (as hopefully Prince Caspian will be this summer) then they kind of fizzle. The Spiderwick Chronicles kind of fizzled.


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