Another ingredient to add to the kids’ fantasy film paella that Hollywood has been cooking up in recent years, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a relatively inoffensive outing.
I haven’t read the books, but from what I can see they don’t quite have the literary clout of or respect garnered by Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, so I doubt many will be as disappointed with this as I was with The Golden Compass. The film involves the Grace family moving into their huge and spooky-looking ancestral home as a consequence of parents Helen (Mary Louise Parker) and Richard (Andrew McCarthy) going through a bad patch. Identical twins Jared and Simon are both played by Freddie Highmore, and it’s amusing to note that he’s much better at one of them (the quieter, bookish Simon) than the other (the adventurous Jared). The last member of the family is their older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), who happens to fence*, which we all know will come in handy later on.
It’s all got to do with their ancestor Arthur Spiderwick, whose investigations into the magical world of trolls, boggarts and whatnot got him into a lot of trouble. When Jared finds Arthur’s book, complete with a note warning him not to open it, we all know that a: he’ll open it, and b: something bad’s gonna happen.
The Spiderwick Chronicles almost moves too fast for its own good. It seems that few fantasy films have taken a leaf out of Peter Jackson’s book, and realised that it takes time to establish a fantasy world, and have instead rushed through special effect after special effect, ignoring subtleties like character (Golden Compass, I’m talking to you). Overall, the film is rather lightweight, but has enough going on to keep most kids entertained. It’s only late in the piece that we get a little bit of subtext, and it’s a welcome facet of a potentially bland screenplay.
The special effects blend rather well into the physical environment, though I didn’t actually like the creature designs all that much. Phil Tippet is a master of his trade, but too many of the creatures are simply… ugly. It is apparent that a large portion of the $90 US million budget went towards the CGI, and perhaps this makes the film feel a little cramped at times. The major letdown is actually James Horner’s score. It’s horribly overbearing from the very first note – pummelling us with bland and clichéd themes every chance it gets. If anything it highlights the film’s flaws.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is enjoyable enough, though parents needn’t get too excited.Rating: