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  Publicity Stills of
"The Spiderwick Chronicles"
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.spiderwickchronicles.com/

Opening Day: 13 March 2008


From the beloved best-selling series of books comes "The Spiderwick Chronicles," a fantasy adventure for the child in all of us. Peculiar things start to happen the moment the Grace family (Jared, his twin brother Simon, sister Mallory and their mom) leave New York and move into the secluded old house owned by their great, great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Unable to explain the strange disappearances and accidents that seem to be happening on a daily basis, the family blames Jared. When he, Simon and Mallory investigate what's really going on, they uncover the fantastic truth of the Spiderwick estate and of the creatures that inhabit it.

Movie Review:

In The Spiderwick Chronicles, we encounter another adaptation from a children's novel, complete with goblins, elves (slyphs, as they are called in this movie) and various themes common place in children literature. The biggest challenge is the temptation to cater to the larger market - making it accessible to the adults and late youth despite a plot content that is decidedly geared towards the younger demographic. As a result, the dangerous middle ground trap is making a film where the adults and teens feel intellectually demeaned while the younger children encounter convoluted dialogue and overly violent battle scenes. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a film that surprises with its ability to deliver an enjoyable, unpretentious film that recognises its greatest strength - a fantastical tale kept down to earth by its modern setting.

Freddie Highmore, the little boy starring alongside Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, plays both Jared and Simon Grace and shines in a slightly more grown up role that's less saccharine sweet and more adolescent temperament. In part due to his commendable performance, at no point does one feel a distraction of his dual role as Jared and Simon, as they come to terms with the magical house and forest in which they live within. The adolescent trio is rounded up by Sarah Bolger, who executes a believable role as the prissy, annoying but ultimately harmless eldest sister who's obsessed with fencing. (On a side note, it is pleasant to see Sarah, as Mallory, adopt a rather realistic sabre en garde position in one of her scenes, a rarity in Hollywood movies. Nevermind the cookie-cutter, dramatic swashbuckling that followed.)

The discovery of the magical forest and the struggle to contain an evil monster Mulgarath form the early part of the story - first Jared discovers Timbletack, (voiced by Martin Short) a ratty looking character who hilariously swings between his good and angry side as and when his craving for honey is satisfied. The rest of the story is a fun, endearing ride as the three kids try to stop Mulgarath and protect the forest in spite of their typically disbelieving adult mom. All three (or rather two), were allowed to exude typical child-like nuances and temperaments that built up a sufficiently tense and engaging rising action to the climax.

Most fascinating was the charming David Strathairn, from the fantastic Clooney product Good Night and Good Luck. Strathairn excels as the cultured biologist/discover Uncle Arthur Spiderwick, whose discoveries of the magical forest and its workings lead to the realisation that his Darwinistic tome of findings must be destroyed. Strathairn depicts the tortured intellectual soul blinded by the pride and intellectual attachment to his prized but dangerous work.

Spiderwick benefits from a contemporary setting as we see the children moving from New York when the Mom seeks to resettle the family from a broken down marriage. The audience does not overdose itself on overly CG-ed effects and over-the-top fantasy imaginings of other children films. Similarly, the see-ing stone adds a refreshing and exceptionally fascinating angle to the story, something akin to Thirteen Ghosts' looking spectacles. The story does justice to its main body by an ending that provided enough drama, action and a well-worked twist that could have so easily been cheesy and overdone. The final scene involving the lovable good guys center around the delightfully genial Great Aunt Lucinda and her wish to return to her dad Arthur Spiderwick - it warmed the audience with its sincerity, simplicity and child-like innocence.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a film that anyone of any age will probably enjoy and its a film parents will want to bring their kids to see. Do not be fooled by the feeling that it seems a bit lightweight - CGI monstrosities like Harry Potter have distorted the archetypal benchmarks for fantasy children films. Spiderwick's more personal and communicative presentation is something I will choose over the Harry Potter films anytime. (Even more so irresponsible, childish literature upon which the Golden Compass was based upon)

It is also a lot less controversial, misguiding and avoids clear talk of sorcery, magic or witchcraft wielded by vengeful kids. The kids fight off goblins with tomato sauce, how good is that? You'll end up wishing every kid gets to grow up with the same innocence, simplicity of thought and character in these modern times.

Movie Rating:

(Please spirit us away from other irresponsible, inappropriate child literatue and films)

Review by Daniel Lim


. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (2007)

. The Golden Compass (2007)

. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)

. Bridge To Terabithia (2007)

. Harry Potter And The Globet of Fire (2005)

. Zathura (2005)

. The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

. Millions (2004)

. Little Manhattan DVD (2005)

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