a critiQal film review The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

Plot: Strange things begin happening as soon as the Grace family - a mom and 3 kids - move into the house owned by their great, great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Unable to explain the strange occurrences, the family blames the youngest boy (Highmore). When he and his siblings investigate, they uncover the truth of the Spiderwick estate...and the creatures that inhabit it.

576 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 52s)

With the New Year almost upon us, we couldn’t figure out what to watch…until Carmella found The Spiderwick Chronicles among our DVDs. We dusted it off, and gave it a look.

Would this film be worth watching? Or is this another flop from Nickelodeon Movies (who also made the ridiculously bad Good Burger and Nacho Libre)? We hoped this wasn’t another young adult series Hollywood had screwed up (but then, what could be worse than The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)?). In other words, we had high hopes, but low expectations going into The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Freddie Highmore leads the cast, and as Jared, he’s not bad. But, when you consider this kid has not one, but two major roles in The Spiderwick Chronicles – as twins Jared and Simon Grace – it becomes a bit more impressive. Still, he’s not that great at emoting, and most of his scenes with his “siblings” are stolen by the more talented Sarah Bolger, who plays his (their?) older sister Mallory. Still, when one youngster is playing two roles, and the other is showing some solid talent, it lays a good base for a film that is based around these kids.

And then there’s the supporting cast. While The Spiderwick Chronicles focuses most of it’s attention on those kids, the film surrounds them with talent. From Mary-Louise Parker as their mom, to Nick Nolte as the bad ogre (thankfully lending more voice talent than face time to the pic), and appearances from David Strathairn and Joan Plowright, there is talent wherever the viewer’s eye may venture. Toss in some decent voice acting performances by both Martin Short and, surprisingly enough, Seth Rogen, and The Spiderwick Chronicles has an incredibly solid cast.

While it seems obvious the books delved more into the details, The Spiderwick Chronicles does a solid job of condensing that story into a manageable length for a film. While viewers will enjoy the story on-screen, there is a sense that there’s much more that has been left out, and may inspire many to dive into the book series the film is based on.

The special effects are on point in The Spiderwick Chronicles as well. With several different fantastical creatures to showcase, it would have been easy for the film to fall apart in the special effects department. Thankfully, it didn’t, and instead brings these magical creatures to life. There’s a bit of a Jim Henson-esque design among some of the creatures (especially the goblins), but that’s more in the look than the cheesy-yet-beloved puppetry of the 80’s. Even the gryphon is decent, although it pales a bit when compared to the majestical creature showcased in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – 4 years earlier.

The Spiderwick Chronicles, then, is a decent film that kids of all ages should enjoy. While it does get viewers interested in learning what has been left out of the film, there’s also that sense that there is something missing. With such a talented cast, it’s easy to get by that, and with the special effects solid throughout, there’s no reason the viewer will step away from the film. It just all seems…a bit rushed, somehow, as some items are quickly glossed over – including emotionally impactful ones – without giving them the justice they probably deserve.

Still, for fantasy films based on young adult novels, while it’s no Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) (or later sequels in that trilogy), viewers could do a whole lot worse than The Spiderwick Chronicles.

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