Spiderwick Chronicles, The (US - BD)
Gabe was expecting an instructional video on making candles with webbing...
Pending divorce, the Grace family moves into a secluded old house, where peculiar things start to happen. Unable to explain the accidents and strange disappearances, Jared, the more aggressive of a pair of twins starts an investigation. During his search Jared comes across a book written by Arthur Spiderwick, the original owner of the Estate, who had discovered an array of fantastical creatures that inhabited the area around it.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a pleasant, unassuming, and dignified little literary adaptation. Tonally I’d compare it to the successful children-aimed fantasy films of the ‘80s. Perhaps my affinity for these films is based on my childhood experiences with them, and perhaps modern children don’t experience the same brand of wondrous awe in these days of photo-real digital effects, but I’m positive eight year old Gabe would’ve loved Spiderwick.
Minus the song and dance numbers, elaborate sets, and badly dressed David Bowie, Spiderwick is pretty comparable to Labyrinth on levels of storytelling, and on the basic moral arc of the lead character. Both films revolve mostly around a bratty child dealing with changing family dynamics through fantasy perils. In the case of Sarah, she’s no longer the child of the house, in the case of Jared, he’s forced to deal with a father who has rejected his love. Both characters are endowed with surprisingly deep knowledge of the otherworldly realm that surrounds them, and both are accompanied by a motley crew of misfits (which I acknowledge is a common trope to the ‘Hero’s Journey’ motif). The major difference between the stories is that Sarah’s journey through the labyrinth is much more literal, because Jared doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the backyard.
In fact, there’s very little about Spiderwick that I’d call novel or extraordinary, but it isn’t directly derivative either. The child of divorce motif might as well have been copyrighted by Steven Spielberg when he made E.T, as it’s carried over into just about every other children’s movie ever since, and the sibling dynamic is a bit tired as well (though at least this time the boys are twins, deleting the unneeded older/younger rivalry). I suppose that even without too much originality the film is still a breath of minty fresh, simply because it doesn’t look or act too much like Harry Potter.
The film’s pacing is both a blessing and a curse. Never once was I checking my watch or twiddling my thumbs, and I guess most kids wouldn’t either, but there’s also little time to absorb the imaginary universe, or do anything but simply take the fantasy for granted as the story sprints forward. Because we’re given so little time to forget a plot point, we aren’t expected to re-remember anything, and upcoming events don’t come as any surprise.
Spiderwick Chronicles is a visually rich feature. The base of the visual style is mostly realistic, with hints and flourishes of fantastic colour schemes, kind of like The Lord of the Rings, though perhaps even more subtle overall. I like this look a lot, especially after a series of increasingly flashy Harry Potter films, and the otherworldly look of The Golden Compass. There’s nothing wrong with these looks, I’m just happy to see a bit of a change up. This way, when the truly fantastic elements arrive, they really mean something visually.
This 1080p hi-def transfer is basically gorgeous, and represents this more subtle style very well. The daylight scenes, which are rarely that bright, are nearly perfect, featuring pin sharp details, full and realistic colours, and no noticeable noise or compression. There’s actually less blocking and edge enhancement here then most Blu-ray releases I’ve seen. The only problems arise in the darkest scenes, especially the low lit indoor scenes. These scenes are still quite clear, but there’s quite a bit more grain, a little edge noise, and some very slight colour bleeding.
I’m not hugely impressed with James Horner’s score, not because it’s poorly conceived or constructed, but because I found it kind of unmemorable. One can tell that thought has gone into the score, but I can’t imagine anyone driving home from the theatre humming the themes. Ironically enough, or not ironically, the score is often lost in the occasionally very busy 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. The rest of the track is plenty awesome, amped with plenty of large-scale surround action. Between exciting sequences of outrunning trolls and battling ogres there are some lovely, gentle, and natural sequences.
There’s one Blu-ray exclusive extra on this disc, a picture in picture option called ‘Spiderwick: It’s All True!’. Had this been an HD DVD I may’ve been able to watch the movie with this option, as it stands, my already outdated Blu-ray player just froze loading over and over.
‘Spiderwick: Meet the Clan’ is a fourteen-minute featurette aimed at the actors. In the beginning everyone freaks out about how good Freddy Highmore is, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Highmore plays the twins as two genuinely different people, and he does it with incredibly subtle dexterity. Then director Mark Waters talks a bit about his attempts at creating a purely American fantasy film, which was made difficult right off the bat by casting a British child and an Irish child. Sarah Bolger (the Irish one) is another fine young actor who may be overshadowed a bit. The adult actors are equally praised, though for a shorter period. Martin Short and Nick Nolte aren’t around for interviews, but pretty much everyone else is.
‘Making Spiderwick’ is all about the elbow grease that goes into a major-ish production. This section covers the prop and set design, from the main house, to the goblin glade and the tunnel. Things move on more to the practical effects, mostly consisting of set destruction and stunts. Things end with a brief discussion with composer James Horner. The twenty-minute featurette includes interviews with the filmmakers and the original authors/creators, who couldn’t be happier.
‘The Magic of Spiderwick’ is a fifteen-minute general look at the digital animation. I must say that I never really bought any of the ghouls and goblins in Spiderwick as particularly realistic, but like the puppet creatures of Labyrinth it is their personality that make them believable as characters. A lot of the creature designs are pretty cartoony (especially when compared to the darker but similar fantasy creatures of Pan’s Labyrinth), but the animation is consistently lively and affecting. The animators here aim our focus on their attention to detail, but looking at the final product versus the pre-production illustrations, I think the problems (if any) with these characters is not so great design.
‘A Final Word of Advice’ is a little Mark Water’s outro, which tries to reassert the ‘magic’ of the film for kids who may’ve been de-magic-ified by the making of information.
Then there are four deleted scenes. These scenes are made up mostly of Jared reading Spiderwick’s book and learning about the fantasy creatures, which is missing from the final film. This is one of the few times I can honestly say that the movie may’ve been better had the deleted scenes stayed in the final cut. I suppose the producers were afraid of going too far over ninety minutes (long movies are on the way out, apparently), but an extra eight would’ve helped in this case. The disc is completed with a collection of trailers and TV spots.
Families and children that enjoyed underrated and underseen, less massively advertised kid’s adventures like Zathura will find plenty to love here. I’m not sure if I’d call for a sight unseen purchase, but I do think a rent is in order. The themes are mature enough to keep bigger kids interested, though the execution may appeal more to younger kids. The PG rating is fair, though the amount of gore visited upon the evil little goblins was a little startling for the rating. This Blu-ray disc looks fantastic, and houses a few enticing extras, assuming you’ve got the ability to actually view all of them.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 24th June 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Spiderwick: It's All True!, Meet the Clan, Making Spiderwick, The Magic of Spiderwick, A Final Word, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Nick Nolte, Mary-Louise Parker, Joan Plowright
Length: 101 minutes
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