Monday, July 21, 2008
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (2008) - Mark Waters
Kids’ movies have come a long way from cartoons and furry puppets. It seems with the evolution of technology, storytelling in kids’ movies has also grown up to some respect. And with the arrival of Harry Potter, things have been kicked up yet another notch. Kids in these movies now have to deal with adult situations mixed with the fantastical. And that means there’s also something for the adults in the audience to get to grips with in the movie. One such movie, The Spiderwick Chronicles, was released this year. Yet despite being a pretty strong movie, it seemed to disappear pretty quickly.
Adapted from the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, The Spiderwick Chronicles tells of the Grace family. Helen, her daughter Mallory and identical twin sons, Simon and Jared move to an old house that once belonged to Helen’s elderly Aunt Lucinda. Helen has recently divorced and is looking for a new start for her family. While Mallory and Simon seem fine with the move, Jared is finding it hard to control his anger, while missing his father. When strange things happen within the house, Jared is blamed. Cleaning up the mess, Jared discovers an old book written by Aunt Lucinda’s father, Arthur. The book, a field guide to recognising and dealing with goblins and fairy folk lands Jared in trouble with the a shape-shifting Ogre named Mulgarath, determined to get his hands on the book so that he can rule the world.
For a kids’ film, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a pretty scary watch. I know, I know, it’s a film about goblins and fairies. But it’s a testament to the crew that they can create quite an atmosphere in a film that’s for children. But it’s not surprising, considering the crew involved with the film. John Sayles worked on the screenplay. Effects legend, Phil Tippet who’s worked on such films as Star Wars, RoboCop and Starship Troopers designed the creature effects. James Horner did the music, and Spielberg’s personal editor, Michael Kahn edited the film. With such heavyweights behind the film, it’s not surprising that the production values are so high.
The acting is pretty top knotch from the cast. Freddy Highmore, who made quite a debut in Finding Neverland plays both Simon and Jared in the film. Highmore’s American accent is a little off, but his performance isn’t. He’s quite different in both roles. It’s more than just a different hair style that separates the twins. While Jared is more the central character, there’s plenty for Simon to do, and both characters are portrayed well. Sarah Bolger plays Mallory, and also brings the older sister bitchiness to the film with ease. The adult actors in the film could quite easily have phoned in their performances, but give it socks. David Strathairn plays Arthur Spiderwick, the man obsessed with the Fairy world. He’s suitably ditzy in playing the professor, and brings a certain gravitas to the role. And crazy old Nick Nolte turns up as Mulgarath. Nolte’s always a joy to watch. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do, and for the role of the villain, he’s perfect.
As kids’ movies go, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of the better ones. While it is for kids, there’s the themes of separation and abandonment by a parent also at play. It’s almost Spielbergian how the film deals with an absent father. And the production values also suggest this. But that aside, it’s a pretty good film. And one that’ll keep adults engaged as well as kids.