The Spiderwick Chronicles
Goblin disco parties are hot!

Theatrical Release Date: 02/14/2008
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte (voice), Martin Short (voice), Seth Rogen (voice), David Strathairn

When you move into an old house, one wherein your great aunt earned a trip to the loony bin for believing in imaginary creatures, and you come across a handmade book with a note on the cover saying not to read the book – would you go ahead and read it anyway? Well, that’s exactly what Freddie Highmore does and the result is “The Spiderwick Chronicles”.

Based on the novels (more like inspired by them according to Elizabeth Edgemont who has read them all) written by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, what young Mr. Highmore had no idea about was that in reading the book, he essentially reawakened dark forces in the woods surrounding his new home.

What follows is a fairly standard kids fantasy film, where the precocious boy enlists the help of his family to defeat (oops, was that a spoiler?) the evil ogre who wants the book to gain dominance over all other creatures.

While the plot points aren’t anything new, the acting and production value are top notch. First, I’ll salute Freddie for giving not one, but two good performances, as he plays twin brothers Jared and Simon. Each of the characters have distinct qualities which are easily recognized, due for the most part by Highmore’s acting ability.

His sister, played by Sarah Bolger, is also a fairly well-fleshed out character. While there isn’t much time or concentration on character development in the film, Bolger was able to breathe more life into her role than what was given to her in the script. This isn’t too surprising considering her excellent performance in 2002′s “In America”. (Why is it that so many foreign actresses (Ms. Bolger is Irish) can play American characters so well?)

Kudos also to the voice-over work by Martin Short, Seth Rogen and Nick Nolte (who plays the evil ogre). Each lend their unique, though few would say dulcet, tones to help bring their CGI counterparts from the computer to the screen. The only drawback to using Nolte as the voice of the ogre is that his real life visage is far scarier.

Just one look at this:

    Nolte-rific

exemplifies something far scarier than a CGI ogre. Now, to be fair, the filmmakers did include one scene of Nolte as himself but it was a brief encounter and only proves my point.

Speaking of the CGI, while all of the creatures did have that cartoonish, obviously fake quality to them, I think it worked quite well in the framework of the film. Sure, they were missing a tangible quality but were exactly the type and look of creations I have come to know and love in fantasy films. And as there were many elements of real people reacting to essentially nothing at all, I thought the filmmakers did a good job of making it all seem believable.

That being said, keep in mind that while the film carries a PG rating, there are a few scenes that seem a bit too adult for little kids (though these days you need to have at least 7 stabbings, strangle a pupple and let loose a nipple slip to get a PG-13 rating). I’d probably make the cutoff for this film at 10 years old or so, obviously depending on the maturity of your spawnlet … Unless you like dealing with your child’s nightmares … then by all means, take them to this post haste.

All in all, I was satisfied with the film and will write up a 3 out of 5 for “The Spiderwick Chronicles”. It hits all its marks and quite adequately lends itself towards the intended audience of tweens and fantasy film fans. While you may be forced into a theater by your children for this one, should you be childless (as far as you know) and decide to wait for DVD, I can’t fault you on that one. There are about 73 different films opening this Valentine’s Day … even I can’t get to them all.