I have to admit that I enjoy many of the made-for-kids fantasy films, but lately there have been so many of them that I think Hollywood has gone a little astray. Most of today's films rely too much on special effects and depicting other worlds, than on storytelling. Of course, there are some (like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) that strike a good balance. But others (like The Golden Compass) really fall short of the mark. And don't get me started about Harry Potter – good in the beginning, but now just boring. So it's refreshing to see something new come along that is based in modern times (in today's world), provides good character development, and uses special effects as part of the story rather than to tell the story. I'm talking about The Spiderwick Chronicles.
The Spiderwick Story
The film opens with the Grace family moving into a secluded old house (inherited from a supposedly crazy Aunt who is now in a nursing home). This is where we're first introduced to Jared, his twin brother Simon, their sister Mallory, and their mother Helen. The mom is going through a divorce and they can no longer afford to live in NY. The kids aren't thrilled about the move, but Jared in particular doesn't like what his mother has done. He blames her for the parents breakup, which is an underlying theme throughout the story.
The main story has Jared discovering a secret room in the old house, which turns out to be his great uncle's (Arthur Spiderwick) study. In this room, Jared finds Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide, which reveals secrets about a magical world filled with magical creatures (fairies, goblins, ogres and more) that exists right here in the real world, but it can't be seen by humans (most of the time). Despite being warned not to read the book, of course, Jared does read the book and unleashes an age old magic, which awakens the ogre Mulgarath. Thus begins the kids adventure of keeping the book safe and finding a way to defeat Mulgarath because if he obtains the book, he could destroy the world.
It's your basic good against evil story with the kids being the heros, but the modern day setting and the great storytelling make the movie enjoyable.
The Spiderwick Blu-ray Experience
Paramount did an excellent job with the Blu-ray edition by providing beautiful visuals, and a great 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. They also did a good job with the menu system, which is clear and easy to navigate. One thing missing is descriptions that display when you choose a menu item. Many Blu-ray titles do this, but this one doesn't. Spiderwick does, however, give you access to the menu during movie playback, which is on par with other Blu-ray titles and a very welcome feature. I especially like it for turning features on/off during playback (like the enhanced Field Guide).
The Spiderwick Special Features
The Spiderwick Chronicles is packed with extra features including It's a Spiderwick World (the book authors talk about how the Spiderwick Chronicles came to be); Making Spiderwick (a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film); The Magic of Spiderwick (a look at how the special effects were done); Spiderwick: Meet the Clan (interviews with the actors talking about the characters they played – did you know that Freddie Highmore played both Jared and Simon? I admit he had me fooled). There are also some deleted scenes and a couple of other extras.
In addition, there is the Special Enhanced Blu-ray Version of Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide. This is an interactive guide that provides information about the many creators found in the Spiderwick Chronicles. The Guide can be access through the Special Features menu or it can be activated to display informative during movie playback. This is a nice bonus that I'm sure kids will enjoy, although I was actually hoping for something more in-depth or even better maybe an addition interactive feature that would let viewers explore Arthur Spiderwick's secret study. Then again I have to keep in mind that this title is made for kids and not old farts like me.
The Spiderwick Success
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a nice change from the usual fantasy film formula and presets a real story in today's real world with a twist of the fantastical. I know I would have loved this film as a kid and I found that I even enjoyed it as an adult. There are plenty of extras (although I wished for even more, which is a good sign that the title as a whole was done well) and the storytelling with excellent character performances make it a movie you and your kids will want to see.
For more information:
* The Spiderwick Chronicles (Blu-ray)
* The Spiderwick Chronicles (Two-Disc Special Edition) DVD