From the beloved, best-selling series of children’s books written by Holly Black and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi comes the fantasy adventure The Spiderwick Chronicles, a rangy, free-spirited and mostly enjoyable family film that brings to life in wondrous, state-of-the-art fashion a fantastical, unseen world that exists all around us. For those who devoured dime-store fantasy tales in their younger years, and dreamed up all sorts of outlandish reasons behind the strange hump of grass in your neighbor’s yard or the oddly shaped tree at the end of the block… well, this will spark memories of nostalgia, and likely win a place in the hearts of your own children, or nieces and nephews.
From the moment the Grace family, headed by exasperated single-mother-to-be Helen (Mary Louise Parker), moves into a secluded old country house, peculiar things start to happen. Unable to explain a series of accidents and strange disappearances of personal items, the three Grace children — Mallory (Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker‘s Sarah Bolger) and twin brothers Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore) — start to investigate. When one of them uncovers a manuscript hidden in the wall, the unbelievable truth of their sprawling new home and the amazing creatures that live in and around it is revealed, leading to much adventure. It turns out that 80 years ago, naturalist Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) began compiling all sorts of information about fairies, sprites, hobgoblins and other fantastical creatures, and this hidden tome is the culmination of his life’s work — a text with which the evil ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) could do much damage, if only he could lay hands on it.
As directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn’t bowl one over with breathlessly ambitious scope and dazzling, dizzying, overly slick execution, so perhaps the best way to appreciate its solid charms is in the comfort of one’s own home, where it properly feels like just a nice, imaginative bedtime story come to life. Seth Rogen and Martin Short contribute voice work, and Highmore — who between this, Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is racking up quite the fanciful filmography — delivers two nice performances, as both the bookish, introverted Simon and the more rascally, forward-leaning Jared, most upset over his parents’ impending divorce. Overall, the movie is an engaging enough, direct-line-to-the-fanciful piece of entertainment, in the vein of Bridge to Terabithia.
The two-disc, “field guide,” special collector’s edition DVD of The Spiderwick Chronicles comes housed in a regular, plastic Amray case that is then in turn stored in a nice cardboard slipcover with a small, red, horizontal, mock-wax seal that preserves the “unbroken” integrity of the fantastical secrets that await inside. Presented
in widescreen enhanced for 16×9 TVs, the movie comes with Dolby digital
5.1 surround sound audio mixes in English, Spanish and French, and
optional subtitles for all of those languages as well. It also boasts an impressive array of behind-the-scenes featurettes, starting with the seven-minute, Waters-hosted segment “It’s All True!,” which finds the director gently pitching the movie’s back story as real, and catching audiences up on the wide variety of characters and which household items offer safety (that would be salt, though tomato sauce is also a good defense against goblins).
An introductory look at the cast and characters further delves into the genealogy and intertwined relationships of all the Spiderwick creatures (hobgoblins, above left, are part pig, part bat, part monkey, don’t you know, and you shouldn’t take their fondness for spitting in your face personally), while a nine-minute explication of the series’ back story features sit-down interviews with humble-seeming authors Black and DiTerlizzi, as well as producer Mark Canton. “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide,” meanwhile, spotlights reprinted pages from the books, with 10 links to in-movie scenes featuring the specific, mentioned creatures, though it should be noted that this function deactivates the DVD’s subtitles options. A separate little making-of featurette spotlights the movie’s production design and cinematography, and four deleted scenes are also included. Rounding things out are Nickelodeon TV spots and preview trailers for Barnyard, Bee Movie, the new Indiana Jones DVD Collection and a couple other titles. To purchase the two-disc DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) A- (Disc)