Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles **1/2

Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger
Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright

Soon to be divorced Mrs. Grace (Parker) moves with her kids to a house left to her by great uncle Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn), who disappeared mysteriously eighty years before.
Her eldest daughter Mallory (Bolger) practices fencing and seems to have taken a more mature take on the divorce than her twin brothers Simon and Jared (both played by Highmore).
Simon is a bookish kid who avoids fights and always has wise words for his siblings, while Jared is the rebellious one who resents his mother for taking him away from his father.
One day Jared finds a book written by his great uncle and containing secrets of the woods around their house.
Turns out the forest is inhabited by creatures that include fairies, trolls, brownies and ogres. The ogre king Mulgarath, is keen on finding the book in order to destroy the world and before you can say visitation rights, Jared has convinced Simon and Mallory that it's up to them to stop him.
While the film sounds instantly reminiscent of all those other fantasy book adaptations, which have become so popular and ubiquitous, truth is that you might get a surprise or two.
For starters the acting is great all the way, from Parker's heartbreaking mother who's trying hard to adjust to a new life and Plowright, who as Spiderwick's daughter gives the film it's most breathtakingly beautiful moment.
Highmore is nothing short of wonderful; it is always great to see a child acting like a child. While in some moments Jared delivers forced speeches, the rest of the time you can't really blame him for giving in to all the madness he becomes part of.
And it is here where the film's best quality lies; the visual effects aren't anything we haven't seen before and the magical world thing might not be really original or fascinating, but director Mark Waters imprints them with what he's become best at: delivering stories about young people with an affecting emotional truth, disguised as a genre film.
The movie features some honestly scary sequences which might not be appropriate for small children, but it's even harder to fathom that the harshest moments of all come when there are no magical critters around and the characters are forced to confront their own demons.
A dinner scene becomes as hostile a battlefield as you ever saw and a conversation between mother and son has them throwing words more painful than arrows.
"The Spiderwick Chronicles" is a film about knowledge.
How when we're little there is so much information hidden from us and how usually by accident we discover facts that push us into maturity.
Great part of the plot deals with how these two are opposing forces; Spiderwick tried to hide it from his family with tragic consequences, while Jared constantly calls his father to know what's really going on.
When, and if, those forces intersect the results will always have unforeseeable consequences, which is why it's pleasant to find a film aimed at children that doesn't believe that during this time ignorance equals bliss.

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