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The Spiderwick Chronicles: Two-Disc Field Guide Edition DVD Review

The Spiderwick Chronicles: Two-Disc Field Guide Edition

June 24, 2008

Director: Mark Waters,
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Andrew McCarthy, Sarah Bolger,

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DVD Review

Like The Golden Compass (2007), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) is an adaptation of a series of popular children’s novels and made in the hopes of kick-starting a lucrative franchise a la Harry Potter. The film received mostly positive reviews and did quite well at the box office thus insuring at least another sequel.

The Grace family moves into the old, secluded Spiderwick house in New England. The mother (Parker) has gotten a new job but one of her sons, Jared (Highmore) is less than thrilled with having his life uprooted. He has the typically antagonistic relationship with his sister Mallory (Bolger) and gets no help from his brainy twin brother Simon (Highmore again). During their first night in the house, the kids accidentally uncover a hidden dumbwaiter that Jared takes to reveal a laboratory that belonged to the previous occupant, Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn).

Jared finds a book that chronicles a fantastical realm populated by brownies, ogres, goblins, trolls, and other strange creatures. He learns that the book must be protected from an ogre named Mulgarath (Nolte) and not leave the protective circle of the house. When Simon is kidnapped by goblins, Jared realizes the importance of the book and all three siblings put aside their differences and try to figure out a way to defeat Mulgarath.

The film does a decent job establishing the characters and the relationships between them. This sets the stage for when Jared finds the fantasy realm which is nicely realized with colourful CGI created creatures that interact quite well with the live-action actors. The fantasy realm is also vividly realized but doesn’t quite envelop and engage as the world depicted in a film like The Golden Compass.

There is also something slightly off about the characters, perhaps the feeling that they are not quite developed enough to sustain interest for us to care about what happens to them. It doesn’t help that the subplot involving Jared’s mother and father’s impending divorce feels like a tacked on afterthought. This is what separates The Spiderwick Chronicles from being a good film instead of a great one like The Golden Compass. This is a shame because the film has a lot going for it with child actors that aren’t annoying and don’t mug shamelessly for the camera and wonderful, evocative visual effects.

Special Features:

The first disc starts off with “Spiderwick: It’s All True!” a tongue-in-cheek extra where the film’s director claims that everything in the film is true and provides a primer on how to fully enjoy it. He also introduces and explains the main characters.

“It’s a Spiderwick World!” features Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, authors of the books that the film is based on, talking about their origins. They also talk about how they came up with the character names and their physical appearances which is all quite fascinating. The filmmakers talks about what drew them to books and motivated them to adapt them into a film.

“Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide” is a great feature that takes you through Spiderwick’s book and educates you on the creatures in the film including a clip from the motion picture for each one.

“Field Guide: In-Movie Mode” allows you to consult Spiderwick’s Field Guide at certain points in the film and learn more about certain creatures.

The second disc begins with “Spiderwick: Meet the Clan!” that takes a look at the cast of the film. Director Mark Waters praises each one while the actors talk about what drew them to the project and talk about their characters with a mix of clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage.

“Making Spiderwick!” examines the various aspects of the production starting with the production design. Naturally, the filmmakers used the book’s illustrations as the basis for the look of the film. They actually build the Spiderwick house from scratch.

“The Magic of Spiderwick!” takes a look at the visual effects for the film and how the director worked with the animators. The SFX technicians talk about creating realistic looking creatures with a look at specific ones.

“A Final Word of Advice!” features the director again giving the viewer a final bit of information for watching the film.

Also included are four deleted scenes include such highlights as more footage of the family unpacking in their new home and Jared telling Simon about Spiderwick’s book, trying to convince him of the existence of another realm.

There are also nine TV spots that appeared on the Nickelodeon channel.

Finally, there are two theatrical trailers.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 74%

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