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“Spiderwick Chronicles” fails to wrap me in its web

Posted by goldwriting on February 23, 2008

Spiderwick Chronicles

I can’t stop reading the Warren Commission Report. This is entrancing!

We have been inundated recently by fantasy movies for children all due to one little boy and his magic wand and another little man and his ring. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the multi-billion franchise blockbuster of Harry Potter made every movie studio want to jump on the fantasy bandwagon, which comes complete with a wise-cracking imaginary creature at the helm and a menacing arch enemy biting at your heels. There are even more films to add to this list, but let me get to the task at hand, talking about this new little boy and his own recent brush with the supernatural. Once again, this is an adaptation of a popular series of children’s books, but this film has a very tidy and complete ending, so I walked out not feeling a franchise was in its future. Maybe for once the studios felt that one was enough, or more likely they were just waiting to see how the audience would react to it. Since this review is coming out a whole week after its release, you might already know by now that it is not the blockbuster the studio was hoping for. Let’s try and figure out why…

The movie stars Freddie Highmore (greatest work to date: Finding Neverland), Mary Louise Parker (greatest work to date: according to people who have watched it, Weeds), David Strathairn (greatest work to date: Sneakers), a cameo by Nick Nolte (greatest work to date: The Prince of Tides -or- his mugshot) and not to be forgotten, even more Freddie Highmore. Yes indeed, it’s double the childhood innocence because Freddie plays the twin brothers, Jared and Simon Grace. I fully admit being utterly confused in the first five minutes of the movie because I wasn’t sure which one was him until they were actually standing side by side on screen together, then I put one and one together, to make one. The roles did stretch Freddie more than his previous films because he got to play outside that safety zone that we have pigeon holed him into as the wide-eyed all-heart yearning-for-total-joy little boy. In Spiderwick he plays two extremes, the totally passive and introverted Simon and the anger-ridden rebel Jared. I think this is where people will finally start to see him growing up and spreading those artistic wings, maybe not to the best of results, but at least he’s going for it, which is a commendable step. The rest of the cast play their parts well enough, but no one steals the show here. The cameos of Nolte and Andrew McCarthy (greatest work to date: Less Than Zero -or- Mannequin) as the shifting human form of the arch-enemy, the ogre Mulgarath, was amusing, but the idea that a shape-changer would become Nick Nolte in order to ease a child into trusting him is beyond laughable. There also were a couple of notable voices for the fully animated characters done by Seth Rogan (greatest work to date: Superbad) and Martin Short (greatest work to date: Three Amigos).

The story itself has all the standard elements of children’s fantasy fare: little boy stumbles across great power, evil baddie wants great power, little boy must grow up and outwit the great evil to save everyone. Somehow even with all the right points, this film just misses the beat. The only real emotional punch the movie has is towards the end between the character of Jared and his mom, played by Parker. There was a lot of nice work done in that moment and if the rest of the movie had been as charged with excitement or wonder, this would be a wholly different review. The other disappointing thing I found was that this all surrounds the power of a book that catalogs all the creatures in this mystical world just beyond our eyes, but so little of it is actually ever introduced in the film. I wanted more creatures, more magic and certainly more enemies, which was made up of mainly the ogre and his goblin minions.

So there you have it. This might be one case where the old adage holds true: Read the book. (can’t say for sure, since I haven’t yet, but maybe one day, when I’m old enough)

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3 Responses to ““Spiderwick Chronicles” fails to wrap me in its web”

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Stanley

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