Well look at that! English actor Freddie Highmore turns
sweet 16 today on Valentine's Day and what is he doing to
celebrate? He's got a new film coming out called The
Spiderwick Chronicles! Not every 16 year-old can claim
that! Pretty cool, huh?
I celebrated early with him by seeing a screening the other
night of this film. It's based on Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi's
bestselling children's book series of the same name. I never
read them and probably never will but I did enjoy the movie
plenty. I felt like a lil kid again watching magical movies
like The Neverending Story or Labyrinth.
It was a welcome break from the moody, serious fare that
I've taken in recently. Although, the story has it's share
of thrills, humor, slime and wonder, it's no lightweight.
story opens up with a frantic man holed up in a cob-webbed
attic of a large house in the surrounded by a howling forest.
He's fumbling through this large old book full of what appears
to be his own writings of instructions and maps as well
as drawings of creatures and fairies. It appears he's in
what looks to be a study full of shelves, books, desks,
creepy-crawlie things in jars and papers with pinned butterflies.
He sits in his chair reasonably spooked by the wild sound
in the distance as he closes his book with a wax seal, obviously
determined that no one opens it again as he wraps it up
and locks it in a chest.
years later, the large house is still there and we just
know that book will be opened by someone in the SUV that's
pulling up the drive. Soon enough, the Grace family is introduced
and we see that the film will revolve around the three children.
There's Jared and his twin brother, Simon (both played by
Highmore), their older teen sister, Mallory (the wonderful
Sarah Bolger) and their recently separated mother, Helen
(Mary Louise Parker) all of them are starting anew here
after moving from New York. Strange things start to occur
and at first Jared gets the blame as he's the one who usually
gets into the most trouble. He insists what he hears crawling
in the walls is not his imagination nor his own doing but
no one believes him.
is that misunderstood and often unappreciated child often
seen stuck in a family on the verge of breaking. He blames
his mother for his parents' failing marriage and wants to
move in with his dad. His frustration though is derailed
by whatever is stirring in the house and once he follows
the curious trail up into that old attic, we know something
will be found.
finds a key that opens a certain trunk and a book written
by his great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn).
The book is Spiderwick's "Field Guide to the Fantasy
World" and it is indeed the book that was desperately
locked away eighty years ago. Well, we know how curious
young boys can be, especially ones that are short-tempered
and adventurous. Does he take heed of the note attached
to the book warning anyone not to open the book? Of course
not, instead Jared finds that the book is crammed with all
sorts of information about faeries, brownies, boggarts,
goblins, trolls, and a big ogre named Mulgarath.
does Jared know that after he broke the seal on that book,
it's existence is made known to all those magical beings
in the forest surrounding the house. The one who will do
anything to get his claws on it is Mulgarath (played with
Nick Nolte looking like he did in that DUI pic) and we don't
even really need to know why because he is the baddie who
can take on all shapes and sizes.
we're told is that if the book falls into his possession
all that exists is doomed. That's reason enough to keep
the book safe. Common sense right? If you wanna live keep
the book away from anybody. But then again it is in the
hands if a curious young boy who has no clue that cuz scent
of the book is in the air and Mulgarath's goblins are in
doesn't find out all this just by reading the book. The
keeper of the book turns out to be a brownie named Thimbletack
(voiced by Martin Short). No, not a chocolicious treat but
a fat lil rodent-looking creature who was pals with Spiderwick
back in the day. He tells Jared as long as the book stays
with them in the protective circle around the house that
Spiderwick conjured up, they'll be safe. But children don't
stay within a magical protective circle for long and pretty
soon all mayhem breaks loose with the children running from
trolls and goblins while unsuccessfully trying to keep the
book in one piece.
children aren't alone in their desperate attempt to keep
the book intact and the,selves alive. They get some assistance
from Hogsqueal (hilariously voiced by Seth Rogen), a "hog-goblin"
wanting Mulgarath dead killing his family who gets distracting
by trying to eat birds. They also seek the help of the house's
previous inhabitant, their poor Aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright)
who grew up without her father (yes, Spiderwick) due to
his obsession with all things magical. Now she's living
in the local looney home on account of her talk of goblins
and ogres. It probably didn't help that she had piles of
salt on the window sills and a stockpile of honey, oatmeal
and tomato sauce. Yeah. But once she realizes what Jared
has done, she tells him there's only one thing he can do
and that's find her father, who she believes is still alive
in some fairy land and have him destroy the book.
mentioned, I haven't read the book and was unaware of what
exactly there about before I saw this film. While I feel
it was well-written, I do wonder where the screenwriters
pulled a lame subplot of two dead-beat fathers from. I know
it's my own personal gripe, but I didn't like seeing Jared
heartbroken when his sister had to break it to him that
his father (a brief cameo by Andrew McCarthy) has left the
family form some chick in the city. I also didn't like seeing
Spiderwick unintentionally spend all his life consumed by
his mythical world while his daughter grew old without him
around for eighty-something years. I know all families have
their dysfunction but the film didn't seem to show any men
in a good light. But that's really my only problem with
a film that delivers some solid fantasy entertainment.
designer Phil Tippett and ILM do an amazing job on all the
CGI and creature effects. None of it really felt like the
actors were working with effects and that's kinda rare nowadays.
I was kinda surprised at the PG rating of the film. Parents
might wanna gauge whether or not their child can handle
some of these scares but then again if they are already
reading these books then they might be prepared for what's
creeping around the corner.
I knew he was a talented actor, I was still surprised by
Highmore's work here. I didn't even know till the end credits
that he played both brothers. Both brothers personalities
were evidently different which must of made it more attractive
for Highmore. In fact, the entire cast did an excellent
job with the material they were given, adding enough subtle
characterization to come through. It's easy to expect some
overacting in this kind of story but I really didn't see
director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday, Mean Girls)
has made a fun movie that doesn't condescend the viewer
or over-complicate the story. There are so many series of
children's books currently being adapted that it might as
well become it's own film genre. I didn't plan on seeing
this one at all but I'm glad I landed some screening passes
and was able to experience a movie that served a mixture
of humor, slimy thrills and excitement.
be great if this film would serve as a warning for children
not to open books that have notes warning not to do so but
I doubt they will glean that. They will likely leave the
theatre satisfied with a thrilling fantasy that made them
jump, laugh and maybe even shed a tear. In fact, kids of
all ages can kick back and enjoy a rare experience at the