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The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/24/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/25/2008

If you've been awake over the last decade, then you've no doubt noticed the Harry Potter phenomenon. It's very clear that this launched a franchise of books, movies, and merchandise which has taken the world by storm. But, unless you frequent book stores, and more specifically the children's section, you may not have noticed the other effects. The success of Harry Potter has led to the publication of many fantasy novel series which are aimed at young readers. These books tells stories of magical creatures and wondrous places. We've already some of these books, such as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and Eragon, adapted for the big-screen, and now comes the latest entry, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

As The Spiderwick Chronicles opens, the Grace family arrives at their new home in a creepy old house in the country. They have moved from New York to start a new life. Newly separated Helen (Mary Louise-Parker) intends to make a go of things with her three children, daughter Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and her twin sons, Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore). Simon is shy and loves animals. Jared is hot-tempered and has a history of getting into trouble. On their first night in the house, several items go missing and Jared is immediately blamed. But, the kids soon find the items, along with many others, in a space behind the wall. While Mallory and Simon go to bed, Jared decides to explore the hole and finds a dumb-waiter which leads to a hidden office. There, he finds a book, "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You". Despite a warning to keep the book sealed, Jared opens it and finds a wealth of information about fairies, goblins, and ogres. He also discovers that a brownie named Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short) lives in the house. Thimbletack warns Jared that dark forces want the book, as they can use its secrets to take over the world. Sure enough, a group of goblins, who serve the ogre Mulgarath, attack the house, and Jared must convince Simon and Mallory that fairies are real in order to enlist their help.

Given its subject matter, it's nearly impossible to not career The Spiderwick Chronicles to the world of Harry Potter. Both contain magical creatures. Both feature young boys who go from having a normal, yet unhappy life, to suddenly finding themselves thrust into a world of magic. Mallory is similar to Hermione, in that she's a young girl who can take care of herself, and Simon is akin to Ron Weasley, as he allows Jared to take the lead. The main difference between The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Harry Potter films is the tone. The Spiderwick Chronicles is aimed at a younger audience. While there are some moments of peril which will no doubt frighten the very young, the movie is much lighter in tone than the Potter movies. One never gets the sense that anyone is any real danger here. Also, the story focuses mainly on the children, with Helen between the only real adult figure in film. (There are other adults, but they don't act like adults.) There's no one who is equal to the faculty in Harry Potter.

This younger focus makes for a film which offers plenty of action, but feels somewhat hollow. Having now seen the film twice (I actually caught this one in the theater!), I must say that the movie moves along at a very nice pace, and once Jared discovers the book, the action rarely lets up through the 101 minute running time. And yet, much of this action feels somewhat sterile. Maybe it's the lack of menace that I mentioned earlier, or the fact that the film is cramming a whole lot of story into a small space, but much of the action is never very thrilling. The same can't be said for the finale, when the villain reveals itself and a harrowing battle begins. This scene is exciting and it will scare the tots in the audience, but it leads to a conclusion which is very satisfying and makes a "call back" to one character's very odd behavior throughout the movie.

While it may not be the most exciting fantasy film ever made, The Spiderwick Chronicles is still a solid effort and another good movie from Director Mark Waters (who has a surprisingly strong resume for someone that you've most likely never heard of). Adults may not be taken in by the action, but the move boasts some seamless special effects, and Freddie Highmore must be praised for playing dual roles who are so different. The movie also score points for sheer imagination in some areas (all of which were taken from the source novel), with my favorite idea being the effect of hobgoblin spit. Youngsters who may not be ready for the frank darkness of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may be better suited for the kinder, but still imaginative offerings of The Spiderwick Chronicles.

The Spiderwick Chronicles unveils the truth about magical creatures on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in three separate editions -- fullscreen, widescreen, and widescreen 2-disc. For the purposes of this review, the widescreen 2-disc version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. However, the transfer is also very dark...I'm talking Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem dark. In the nighttime scenes, it is often difficult to discern exactly what is happening. Unfortunately, the finale, which is arguably the best part of the movie, takes place at night. While the daytime scenes look fine, if not a bit overcast, and show good colors, those dark scenes are brutal. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike the video, everything comes through loud and clear here. The track offers ample stereo and surround sound effects, and provides very nice speaker separation. The subwoofer effects are also quite impressive and the troll chase scene provided an excellent amount of bass.

The Spiderwick Chronicles 2-disc set contains many extras on both discs. Disc 1 kicks off with "Spiderwick: It's All True!" (7 minutes) where Director Mark Waters explains that everything in the film is true, and he gives us instructions on the objects which we need to have handy while watching the movie. He then gives an overview of the main creatures in the film. "It's a Spiderwick World!" (9 minutes) is an interview with Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi who describe the origin of The Spiderwick Chronicles books. They talk about the various fairies and goblins and what inspired them. (We don't learn how much of this is the truth.) "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide" is an interactive feature which allows the viewer to gather information about the various creatures in the film. "Field Guide: In-Movie Mode" offers background information the film through additional footage which can be accessed while watching the movie.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Spiderwick: Meet the Clan!" (14 minutes) examines the characters and actors. A good deal of time is spent exploring how Freddie Highmore was able to play the twins. The actors discuss how they approached their roles, along with comments from Director Mark Waters. "Making Spiderwick!" (21 minutes) is made up mainly of behind-the-scenes footage and production art, as it explores the creation of the sets and props. On the whole, half of thie piece looks at the overall look of the film. We also see how the actors worked with the special effects. "The Magic of Spiderwick!" (14 minutes) shows the designing of the film's creatures and how they were brought to life in the computer. "A Final Word of Advice!" (2 minutes) is an outro from Waters. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES, which run about 8 minutes. These mainly consist of more moments of Jared trying to convince his family that the fairies are real. We get nine "Nickeloden TV Spots" which run about 5 minutes. These promos are mostly filler, but there are some interesting moments here. The extras are rounded out by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought The Spiderwick Chronicles to Blu-ray Disc.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mpbs.  The image here is certainly an improvement over the DVD.  For one thing, the picture isn't as dark.  It's still slightly dark, but the action is far more visible in the finale.  The picture also looks better in the daytime scenes, and the shots involving the goblins display seamless special effects.  These shots are very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material.  Colors are good, especially reds and blues, and I detected no artifacting.  The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps.  This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The audio sounds very good, as stereo effects are abundant and show impressive speaker separation.  These stereo effects also show a high degree of detail, and very insignificant sounds can be heard.  The surround and subwoofer effects really come to life during the action sequences, especially during the finale and the troll chase.  In fact, the audio during these scenes is what may make the film too intense for younger viewers.

The extra features on The Spiderwick Chronicles Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the 2-disc DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long