Spiderwick Chronicles: A Movie Review
I wish I could say that Spiderwick Chronicles is a really good children's movie.
After all, it's based on a popular five-book series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, a sort of "Narnia Lite," involving three children plopped down by their parent's divorce in an old gothic house in which magical secrets hide behind the walls. Uncovering these secrets makes visible an alternate world of benevolent spirits and evil ogres who seek the power hidden in a book left behind by the children's great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick, whose Field Guide has lain hidden in his study for 80 years.
Two of the Grace children, teen-aged Mallory and brother Simon, are reconciled to the move precipitated by their father's romance with another woman, but Jared turns his anger on his mother, who has no choice but to move the family to her Great-Aunt Lucinda's dark and shabby old Victorian house. Once inside, ominous events lead Jared to discover a dumb waiter inside the kitchen walls and make a solitary trip on it up into the garret. There, despite dire warnings, he finds and reads his Great-great Uncle Arthur's Field Guide , which holds the secrets of an alternate universe of magical beings. With the help of the Seeing Stone, which he also finds in Arthur Spiderwick's study, Jared is suddenly able to see the evil monsters he has released. With two helpful creatures, a honey-swigging brownie named Thimbletack and the piggish hobgoblin Hogsqueal, Jared and eventually his siblings must find a way to keep the powerful Field Guide out of the hands of the ultimate evil ogre, Mulgarath, who needs it to destroy all earthly life.
Strung out over five books, this is a passably good fantasy adventure. Cramming all the action into one movie means that exposition of the underlying family problem is limited to a few interchanges between Jared and his clueless mother Helen Grace. Instead, most of film's 97 minutes is spent force-feeding the audience with an endless series of confrontations with the encroaching villainous creatures. On the "MPM" (Monsters-per-Minute) scale, this movie tops most recent fantasy movies by a mega-mile. The grounds and woods are crawling with the creatures, who eventually make off with enough of the Field Guide to break all of Arthur Spiderwick's protective spells on the house.
With the ogre hoards literally at the door the kids have to make do with Lucinda Spiderwick's monster-inhibiting supplies of oatmeal, tomato sauce, and lots and lots of salt. Yep, tomato sauce, oatmeal, and salt, with which Jared puts together the old exploding oven trick and wipes out the minor bad guys, leaving just enough film time for the final showdown with Mulgarath, who having already appeared in the form of Nick Nolte and a ravening, slime-drooling monster, shape-shifts again into the form of Jared's father.
The human actors are good, but the competently done C.G.I. creatures are beginning to seem all too familiar. Of course, the evil Mulgarath is satisfyingly conquered with a touch of humor, leaving the old house mysteriously restored (not a speck of tomato sauce in sight) and Jared and his mom reconciled. It's all pretty formulaic, especially when the sylph-borne Arthur Spiderwick returns from his fairy limbo to take his now 86-year-old daughter Lucinda back to Never-Never Land in the final fade-out. The lack of a compelling and unifying theme amidst all this monster mayhem leaves the whole thing rather flat and the audience somehow unfulfilled.
I'd give it a C+ at best. Your movie money would probably be better spent buying the books, The Spiderwick Chronicles Box Set: Book 1: The Field Guide; Book 2: The Seeing Stone; Book 3: Lucinda's Secret; Book 4: The Ironwood Tree; Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath, and/or the audio book version of The Spiderwick Chronicles Box Set: Book 1: The Field Guide; Book 2: The Seeing Stone; Book 3: Lucinda's Secret; Book 4: The Ironwood Tree; Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath.