The Spiderwick Chronicles is a movie based on a series of fantasy books for kids (which I’ve not read). It had positive reviews to varying degrees and I was in the mood for something reasonably light last night so I chose this.
A good choice I think.
Though perhaps a little patronizing of me to call it ‘light’ when Kermode called it ‘a horror movie for kids’. What can I say? I am a wimp when it comes to horror but I can cope with fantasy goblins and ogres. Besides is it patronizing to say that I thought it enjoyable?
So the movie is the story of a family moving into an old house, the eponymous ‘Spiderwick’ estate, they inherited from an old relative. Decades before it was the home of Arthur Spiderwick, a self-taught expert in fantastical creatures, who wrote his ‘field guide’, a compendium of information on the various array of goblins, fairies, bogarts, sylphs (?) and others that roamed, invisibly most of the time, in and around his home. Having completed the book it instantly became dangerous because its secrets would allow the local ogre to take control and then, as one character had it, ‘you all die’. Arthur Spiderwick protected his book with charms and a semi-friendly brownie/bogart and promptly disappears. Eighty years later the kids of the family, two twin boys and their older sister, find the book and get caught up in an adventure trying to protect it, and one another, from the grasp of Mulgarath (that ogre I mentioned).
And as I said it’s a lot of fun. It’s not incredibly original but it’s well done. Hogsqueal the hobgoblin as the slightly disgusting, alternately brave and cowardly, humourous sidekick is the kind of thing we’ve seen before — but nonetheless entertaining for that. If you’re not a fan of CGI then you might have a problem because that’s what’s used to realise the creatures. I didn’t find it any more distracting to the story than I would have done costumes or animation.
It’s quite quick paced and certainly doesn’t out-stay its welcome, despite I’m guessing, having had to cut some material from the books. I think this shows in particular in the part of one of the twins Simon, whose only real function is to get himself kidnapped instead of his brother Jared, whose story this really is.
The film is at its best when we’re chasing or being chased by goblins and wotnot. In a couple of moments of ‘family drama’ it descended into sacharine sentiment. I don’t know, maybe kids need or like an unsubtle approach to emotions but it jarred for me.
In fact I’d say this movie has two messages. The most obvious and least successful of which is about father-child relationships and the importance of being there for your kids. The more subtle and better realised is that knowledge, in the form of learning, is power, and that it can be exciting and an adventure. The central item in the plot after all, is essentially a text book. My inner nerd, the kid that had to be kicked out of the classroom at break time to play with the other kids rather than read under the table, quite likes that.
So overall, an enjoyable, undemanding piece of entertainment.