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Spiderwick Chronicles
Reviewed by Deanna Toxopeus, © 2008

Format: Movie
By:   Mark Waters (director) and Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, John Sayles (screenplay)
Genre:   Fantasy
Review Date:   February 18, 2008
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

"You don't see us. Now you do. But only if we want you to." -- Thimbletack

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a children's publishing juggernaut. Not quite Harry Potter level, but still a top seller. Spiderwick started out as a series of illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi, who turned to his friend Holly Black to help him write the story. They consist of five short books, with lots of illustrations, and are very popular with kids, especially struggling readers. I recommended them as a selection for What to Read After Harry.

So when news of the movie spread, the legions of fans got very, very, very excited. Then came news that it was being released in February, one of two months renowned as the dumping grounds. for bad movies. The aforementioned readers then got a little nervous.

These thoughts were bubbling through Husband Unit's and my minds as we trundled off to the megaplex to see this month's assignment. After the movie, both of us agreed: the studios made a mistake releasing this movie in February. It deserved to be released before Christmas or this summer.

It is good enough to go up against Alvin and the Chipmunks and win. Of course a YouTube video of my cat licking his privates could have beaten Alvin and the Chipmunks. Despite that, this movie is good!

The Spiderwick Chronicles tells the story of three siblings, Mallory and twins Jared and Simon, who move to New England with their mother after their parents' marriage breaks down. Jared is having the toughest time dealing with the change, having an anger management issue as evidenced by his sullen demeanor, withdrawn listening to the heavy metal music and beating the car's bumper into submission with a stick. He is hoping his father will come get him and take him back to the big city.

In the new house he finds a field guide to fairies written by a long-lost relative. This discovery leads to bad things. Most significantly, the evil ogre Mulgarath who wants to rule the world (played by Nick Nolte who looks fresh from a DUI conviction in his only non-CGI appearance in the film).

Mulgarath sends his many minions to try and get the book. Luckily the relative built defenses for the house. Unfortunately, Jared keeps taking the book outside the defenses. Must be that anger management issue.

Like most movie adaptations, Spiderwick deviates from the books, but in most cases this was done to fit the five books into one movie. Avid readers may have a problem with that, but for the most part it works.

There are scenes that have been taken directly from the book, so much so that they mimick DiTerlizzi's illustrations. Most notable is Mallory, with her hair tied to her bed, a literal photocopy of the illustration from the first book.

Acting-wise, the performances are fine. Freddie Highmore does double duty as angry Jared and pacifist Simon. Hard to tell, as the special effects were pretty seamless. We have come a long way from the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek.

The movie is full of brief, fun adult celebrity appearances and voiceovers. Mary-Louise Parker as mom, Joan Plowright as Aunt Lucinda and Seth Rogan as Hogsqueal are the standouts of this category.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun ride. The plot moves along with a rapid speed, entertaining for both adults and kids in the audience. The special effects are well done, lending atmosphere. Given this, you might want to leave the very young kids at home, as some of the fairies are a little on the scary side.

When she isn't collecting Nick Nolte photos, staff writer Deanna Toxopeus writes Ubalblog for RevolutionSF.

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