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  Spiderwick Chronicles, The Brought To Book
Year: 2008
Director: Mark Waters
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Sarah Bolger, Andrew McCarthy, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Jordy Benattar, Tod Fennell
Genre: Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eighty years ago, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) wrote and illustrated a book that was to be his undoing, but had been kept secret all these years as it has been stashed in his family home, an isolated mansion in the woods. However, it is about to be uncovered tonight as the long-vanished man's relatives move in, travelling from New York City after the parents' marriage appears to be at an end. One of the twin sons, Jared (Freddie Highmore), cannot face this and is giving his mother (Mary-Louise Parker) a hard time for leaving his father behind. But soon he will have other worries once he finds that book...

The runaway success of the Harry Potter franchise put into production a host of imitators hoping to cash in on the whole fantasy for the family bandwagon, and the Spiderwick picture books were one of those efforts optioned for the big screen. Naturally, Potter-sized success was hard to come by, but this Nickelodeon production did respectable business and even picked up a minor following among aficionados of the new strain of magic movies, with all their spells and CGI monsters. In truth, this particular work was bright and fast-paced enough to divert the audience for the ninety minutes it lasted, but did not linger long in many memories.

Not in comparison to certain rivals, at any rate, but there were some nice effects here that added a sparkle to what was conventional otherwise. Possibly the most impressive effect was not one of those creatures, but rendering star Highmore as twins, proving him to be genuinely talented at creating two different characters interacting with each other, often within the same frame. Also welcome in the acting stakes was Parker, making a generation of viewers feel old as she turned up in the role of a mother of teenagers, but doing her best with emotional scenes that were not quite as heartstring-tugging as the filmmakers intended.

Yes, there was an emotional core to all these effects sequences, and it was not the fear of getting caught by one of the beasts, because we're meant to be affected by the scenes where Jared has to face up to the facts that his father won't be around anymore as he's found someone else to live with. This connects with the feelings of his great aunt (Joan Plowright) who has been confined to a mental institution for eighty years for effectively telling the truth about her father Arthur, that is, he was kidnapped by fairies. Just as Jared feels abandoned, so does she, except he does not have it half as bad as she does. So the problems a missing father can result in are brought out in their stories.

But don't go thinking this is more issue of the week TV movie than fantasy spectacular, because there's plenty of outlandish events to keep you captivated - up to a point. Jared and his bookish brother Simon and domineering sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) manage to see eye to eye once they work out what is going on, indulging in the accustomed running about you expect. Martin Short voices what looks like a mini Incredible Hulk, a diminutive sprite which turns green and aggressive when anxious, and Seth Rogen voices the bird-eating hobgoblin set on upsetting the bad guys, the head of which is shapeshifting brute Mulgarath, played both in sound and occasionally vision by Nick Nolte. Everyone wants the book, and there are adequate shenanigans to see that the goodies keep it and foil the baddies, but the drawback is that not much of this bears any weight, not even with John Sayles among the writers. Fine for a rainy day, though. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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