Review

Review

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

"catapulted into a world full of the slimy green goo, defeated monster blood, and an intense face-off as CGI monsters slash away at children?s legs with swords and take visibly bloody chunks from their shin!"

By Gabrielle DiPietro

Many of our FEARnet staffers were quite confused when they saw our original theatrical review for The Spiderwick Chronicles from Scott Weinberg so it is no surprise that they were even more confused when they caught me watching the Spiderwick Blu-Ray and taking notes.

'Why would we cover The Spiderwick Chronciles? It?s not really horror', they?d ask.

And throughout the screening I found myself giving just one response, 'Well, if you think about it, it is the Labyrinth or Goonies of my childhood, for the new, technologically advanced generation.'

'Ohhhh, I got it,' they?d say recalling childhood memories of sitting on the living room floor staring up at the goblins and ghouls of Jim Hensen?s Labyrinth, anticipating the likelihood of Jareth the Goblin King coming after them. And while The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn?t feature the sinisterly portrayed David Bowie, Spiderwick does feature an even darker Nick Nolte as a shape-shifting ogre named Mulgarath who in human form, isn?t to far from Nolte?s real life mug shots.

 

All kidding aside, when it comes right down to it, Spiderwick does possess a similar formula which catapulted a regular ol? PG flick like Labyrinth to cult film status and helped define a childhood (like my own) appreciation for monster films of the future (Cloverfield, The Host) and undoubtedly the classic monster films of the past (Godzilla, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). For one, the appreciation is in part spawned by those sinister archetypes played by Bowie, Nolte or other celebrities that cause your parents to lackadaisically point at the screen in recognition of their goblin-ized faces. It?s the fundamental and accessible story designed to make the straight monster film seem much more juvenile. Most importantly, it?s the eye feasting imagery and special effects--the puppetry and monsters of yesterday?s Labyrinth to the CGI wonders of today?s Spiderwick. While some may say that the same wonder of the childhood fantasy monster films like Labyrinth is lost with the use of CGI effects, I?d argue that the style of effect doesn?t necessarily change the fact that children who watch monster-packed films like Spiderwick will come to appreciate the artistry of the monster movie for the sheer magic of being exposed to our world merging with the sinister and fantastic.

 

Based on the critically acclaimed book series by co-authors Holly Black and Tony DeTerlizzi, The Spiderwick Chronicles film adaptation follows three children and their mother as they deal with a recent separation from their father by moving into a distant relative?s vacant home. The trouble (and real magic) ensues when headstrong (and frankly stubborn) Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) finds Arthur Spiderwick?s Field Guide, and despite the discouraging note urging Jared not to open the book, does so, and unleashes a dangerous war between the evil Mulgarath, his loyal goblins and the rest of the world. To save his family (and of course the entire human race), Jared must convince his sardonic older sister (Sarah Bolger), brainiac twin brother (also Highmore) and heartbroken mother (Mary-Louise Parker) to join him in the fight against the goblins, ward off the evil Mulgarath, discover the truth about the Spiderwick estate and protect Arthur Spiderwick?s Field Guide.

 

Visually, Spiderwick is set against an autumnal palette and is a spectacle of beautifully designed graphics by George Lucas? ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and FX maestro Phil Tippet. While many of the Spiderwick creatures? designs had basically been established from the book series, Tippet?s experience in creature creation (Piranha, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, RoboCop) and animation has obviously influenced the look and synergy of the creatures. Good and evil, all Spiderwick creatures are detailed and designed with such care and authenticity, that even the bull goblins possess qualities so similar to real toads, it feels as if we?re watching a bit of Animal Planet amidst a fantasy world. And while the rest of the creatures; the brownies, ogres, sylphs, griffins, hobgoblins and regular ol? goblins are also a visual delight, they are clearly designed with many more fantasy elements in mind.

 

The palette and skilled computer generated artistry paired with clean photography, a sharp transfer and the film?s sleek production design by the legendary James Bissell (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, 300, The Ring Two) allow the viewer to congeal the thought of a childhood fantasy film with a visually stunning array of CGI monsters. At this point, we are lost in the film not paying much attention to the fact that the fleet of charging creatures isn?t part of the natural aesthetic of the Spiderwick estate.

 

Just when you think Spiderwick is going to wimp out in terms of blood or violence (it is PG after all) we?re catapulted into a world full of the slimy green goo, defeated monster blood, and an intense face-off as CGI monsters slash away at children?s legs with swords and take visibly bloody chunks from their shin! While that?s the only real blood seen in the film, Spiderwick is careful enough to bring us to a suspenseful and satisfying point without going too far. Although the film acts as a visually delightful amusement for the entire family, suffice to say that families chock full o? future horror-fantasy fans and adult genre-nuts will want to embrace The Spiderwick Chronicles as they have with Labyrinth and childhood fantasy horror and monster movies of the past.

 

What to Expect on the Disc:
While many Blu-Ray presentations are still catching up in terms of presenting extras in high definition, almost all of Spiderwick?s special features are presented in HD. Included in the extras are featurettes detailing the history of Spiderwick, the graphically enhanced world, Arthur Spiderwick?s Field Guide and the making of the film:

Spiderwick: It?s All True! HD
It?s a Spiderwick World HD
Special Enhanced Blu-ray version of Arthur Spiderwick?s Field Guide HD
Spiderwick: Meet the Clan
Making Spiderwick HD
The Magic of Spiderwick HD
A Final Word of Advice? HD
4 Deleted Scenes HD
2 Theatrical Trailers
9 TV Spots

 

The Spiderwick Chronicles is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Be sure to check out our interviews with The Spiderwick Chronicles co-creator Tony DeTerlizzi and director Mark Waters.

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