Monday, February 18, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

“The SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES” (Freddie Highmore, David Strathairn, Mary Louis Parker, Nick Nolte & Sarah Bolger)

The obvious comparison to make here is with “The Chronicles Of Narnia”, & to this critic, I was more entertained by ‘Spiderwick’ than I was by the silly story of a ‘secret world’ existing inside a closet!
Yes, ‘Spiderwick’ is also far-fetched – what fantasy-world film isn’t? – but one of the reasons this works should be credited to the young actors (Freddie Highmore plays twins Jared & Simon Grace – Sarah Bolger their older sister Mallory) Plus, including ogres & goblins instead of talking lions & beavers makes ‘Spiderwick’ more believable (In that the characters are not of ‘our’ world, so we don’t know if ogres & goblins have the ability to speak, do we?) I guess I liked the fact that they were ‘fantasy’ creations. Not that “Narnia” didn’t include plenty of fantasy beasts – but the main character was ‘just’ a lion that spoke in a rather soft, effeminate voice – kind of like using Liberace to represent the voice of the King of the Jungle. The ‘name’ voices used here are that of Martin Short, as an odd creature in charge of protecting the precious ‘book’ Arthur Spiderwick created on the ‘mystical’ creatures he discovered living among us. Seth Rogen as a two-snouted hog-like creature appropriately called Hogsqueal; the one draw-back to supposed ‘good’ guy Hogsqueal is that he likes to eat birds, but you discover why he has to have this craving for the story to work. & Nick Nolte, appearing in human form in the beginning, but then turning into the ‘mad ogre’ Mulgareth, who wants to take over the world & needs Spiderwick’s book to make that come about. Does it matter that there is no logical explanation given for this? Not really, unless you want your childish fantasy tales to make perfect sense. & that’s another thing I thought while watching this movie – ‘Boy, would I have loved this as a kid!’
A magic circle of rocks; tomato juice being used as a powerful weapon & the fact that you can’t see the ‘creatures’ without a magical lens until Hogsqueal spits a load in your eyes, do lend credence to being the type of tale only youngsters can enjoy, but I still liked it. I even understood why they turned older sister Mallory into a swashbuckling kung fu expert – as silly as it seemed – but obviously used to entice young females to feel ‘empowered’ by seeing a teenaged girl ‘save the day’.
David Strathairn doesn’t give his usually boffo performance & I didn’t totally understand why he was presented as such a weinie; being the ‘Spiderwick’ of the films’ title. & Mary-Louise Parker, though given more here than she was in the exceptionally boring ‘Assassination Of Jesse James...’, is nothing more than a pretty face playing the same old same old as the ‘mom’ who doesn’t believe her children until late in the game when she is put in danger.
But it was a fun way to spend an afternoon - & as far as I could tell – there were no ‘secret religious/or anti-religious’ messages being sent out. & the use of Freddie Highmore acting with himself was very cleverly done – special effects have come a long way from Samantha & Serena! Highmore’s performance has its flaws, but they had to make the boys’ personalities overly dissimilar as to easily tell them apart – so give him high praise for succeeding in that endeavor.
For a movie centering on ‘magical mystical creatures’ & child actors – I believe “The Spiderwick Chronicals” will succeed in entertaining most of the children & young adults who see it. Older farts may not be able to accept the ‘silliness’ of the plot, but it worked for this old stinker.

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