DVD Release Date: June 24, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: February 14, 2008
Rating: PG (for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements)
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Mark Waters
Actors: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Sarah Bolger, Joan Plowright, David Straithairn, Seth Rogen, Andrew McCarthy, and Martin Short.
The next time you run across a sealed leather book in the secret laboratory of your new creepy mansion—especially a book with a note of dire warning attached—please, for the love of all that’s good and decent, don’t open it! If you do, you might unleash the fury of both fairies and goblins, and you might even end up time-travelling and changing the course of history for many. (Didn’t we learn not to do that in Back to the Future?)
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, adapted from the book series of the same name, unfortunately Jared (Freddie Highmore) disregards such warnings and tampers with unseen dimensions, quickly finding himself in a dark adventure that will stretch him as never before.
It’s already a volatile phase of life for Jared, as his father (Andrew McCarthy) has left, and his mother (Mary-Louise Parker), brother Simon (also Freddie Highmore), sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and he have just moved from New York City to an ominous mansion that once belonged to an insane aunt (Joan Plowright). And it’s not just your average, ominous mansion. This one, as Jared discovers, was home to a brilliant scientist, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), who eighty years earlier discovered how to see into the world of fairies and goblins. His revered laboratory book contains the secrets that many in this creature world would prefer stay hidden. And if some of the secrets are made public, a terrible ogre (Nick Nolte) could destroy the fairies and take over the world. You’ve gotta hate when that happens.
After Jared finds the lab book, all havoc breaks loose in the human and spirit realms. Jared must rally not only his internal strength, but also the support of his quarrelsome siblings in order to win over creatures with ill motives and keep evil at bay.
With a Harry Potter feel at times, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a dark fantasy and focuses on magic, spells, and creatures. The special effects are brilliant, and the gnomes, fairies, trolls, snakes, and friendly mouse-type house brownie, Thimbletack (Martin Short), are realistic and often plenty scary.
Throughout Spiderwick, the ogre continues to look like Nick Nolte, who is seen in both human and supernatural form. Meanwhile, the mother (Parker) and her sons (Highmore) look astonishingly alike, though the American and Brit actors are obviously of no relation. That’s some good casting!
Highmore does a stellar job playing twin brothers—one of whom is the brave adventurer and the other who is a “I don’t do conflict” safe kid. Jared’s pain over his parents’ breakup is portrayed in heartbreaking, realistic ways, which makes for a good, but sad B-story to the action. Incidentally, it seems that movie plots don’t even try to resolve character’s marital conflicts anymore (ever since 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire). Perhaps they’re just trying to be realistic and portray the fact that half of relationships do end in divorce, and kids just need to deal with it. This aspect of the film may weigh heavily on children going through such pain. On the other hand, there is a character whose sad heart (again related to father abandonment issues) does get mended, which is very uplifting and satisfying.
The typical magical, fantasy-type outlook pervades the movie’s worldview. There are creatures and spells and potions, flying and time travel, but there are also some interesting spiritual parallels for people of faith. For instance, humans are able to see into the spiritual dimension by using a special eyeglass. When they look through this, they are horrified to see hundreds of goblins encroaching upon their safe haven, but they are delighted to see that there are swarms of fairy helpers as well. In the same way, wouldn’t it be terrifying if we, as Christians, could pull back the veil of this dimension and peek into the next? We might, as the daughter in the movie did, begin honing our “sword skills” with a little more vigilance.
Overall, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a well-made, high-dollar, star-studded fantasy/adventure that should do well at the box office. Despite its dark tone and startling CG images, the movie makes for a good conversation tool with children: There’s more to life than what we see with our human eyes. So, beware the unseen forces and battle around us and take heed!