The year is 2008. Kung Fu Panda, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and WALL-E debuted in theaters. Breaking Bad, The Spectacular Spider-Man, True Blood, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold featured on TV. Nickelodeon was still going through its low point with releasing mediocre movies and shows lasting just as long as they came out. Not only that, but all the other networks were starting to lose their luster. Cartoon Network lost their general manager after the Boston bomb scare incident and most of the Disney Channel programs that were popular had ended their run and mostly relied on their live action programs to ride on the popularity of Hannah Montana. With that said, Nickelodeon decided to release another movie to cash in on the fantasy genre. As I mentioned previously at the Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events review, it was suppose to be the start of a franchise similar to the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies. However, due to many delays caused by corporate shakeups and the main actors growing too old for their roles, it was eventually cancelled. So, they decided to adapt another book into a movie. This time, it's The Spiderwick Chronicles.
The book series is about three children consisting of twin brothers and their older sister moving into a new estate with their mother only to discover a fantasy world consisting of faeries. It began in 2003 and ended its run in 2009 with a total of 8 books having positive reviews reviews from critics and readers alike. On February 14, 2008, The Spiderwick Chronicles was released on theaters. Is the movie a good representation of the book or is it another cash grab on the fantasy craze? This is The Spiderwick Chronicles.
The movie opens up with a man named Arthur Spiderwick (played by David Strathairn) writing a book telling of a world full of creatures that he has been discovering throughout his life. Most of the creatures are good, some are bad. The worst creature of all is a shape shifting ogre named Mulgarath (voiced by Nick Nolte), the ruler of a group of goblins. Pretty soon, his book is completed discussing about all the secrets behind the fantasy world and its creatures. We jump into 80 years later where a woman named Helen Grace (played by Mary-Louise Parker), her twin sons Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore), and her daughter Mallory (played by Sarah Bolger) moves into the Spiderwick house that was giving to her by her great-aunt Lucina Spiderwick, Arthur's daughter, after she moved to a psychiatric hospital. Jared is upset about having to move due to wanting his old life back and staying with his father instead. Mallory tells him to get out of the car to help, but Jared refuses. She hits Jared in the arm and grabs a stick to hit her. Mallory pulls out her fencing sword and starts fighting him. When she tells him to help unpacking, she heads over to the house. Jared asks Simon on why he didn't help him out, he replies that he's a pacifist and doesn't like confrontation. While Jared is smashing the back of the car due to anger, something is crawling from the bushes watching him. Jared walks back into the house and hears someone watching him. All of a sudden, things start disappearing in the house such as Helen's car keys and Mallory's medals for fencing. It was found in a dumb waiter that was recently rediscovered. Mallory blames Jared for stealing, but Jared claims he had nothing to do with it.
Jared then decides to go into the dumb waiter and finds out it leads to a secret room where Arthur Spiderwick did his research. While looking around, he finds a key to a chest and discovers Spiderwick's book. While looking, Jared sees Spiderwick's desk with a message written in dust saying for him to leave now. Jared left immediately and brought the book with him. A message giving him a warning of not to read the book otherwise he will be in real danger. Despite that warning, Jared ignored the warning and starts reading it. As soon as he opens it, something starts sneaking into the room and watches over Jared. Jared looks around to see if he can find it, but doesn't. 2 hours later, Mallory begins screaming loudly. Jared, Simon, and Helen rush over to find out that Mallory's hair has been tied to the metal back end of the bed. She blames Jared for doing it, but Jared tells her that he didn't do it. No one believes in him.
The next day, Jared continues to read the book and learns of a creature named the brownie that can disappear and reappear anytime they desire and has an obsession with honey. Jared brings out a cage with honey, crackers, and little knick knacks to lure the brownie in. A while later, the brownie is eating the honey and crackers and Jared asks him questions about who he is and more details about the book. The brownie, whose name is Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short), is shocked that Jared read the book and turns into a more angrier creature. Jared calms him down with honey and Thimbletack explains that he shouldn't have read the book due to Mulgarath and the goblins wanting it for a evil purpose. However, Spiderwick kept the house safe with a circle of toadstools that prevents them from entering the house. As long as no one leaves outside them, they'll be safe. It turns out that the goblins begin to kidnap Simon when he's outside the safety of the toadstools and drag him into the forest, but Jared doesn't see them until Thimbletack gives him a stone with a hole in it. Jared rushes over to save his brother. Jared attempts to save Simon who is locked in a cage until he hears someone behind him. He asks him to slowly lift his foot and when he did, a bird came towards the cage and suddenly disappears. When Jared puts the stone in his eye, he sees a hobgoblin named Hogsqueal (played by Seth Rogen) eating the bird and telling him to set him free since Mulgarath killed his family and wants revenge. Jared just wants to save his brother, but frees Hogsqueal from his cage and starts planning on taking down the goblins. To have Jared see the goblins without the stone, Hogsqueal spit in his eyes so that he can use two hands to kill Mulgarath. However, Hogsqueal sees another bird and chases him away. Simon is lowered down and confronted by Mulgarath and tells him on where the book was. Simon tells him and doesn't know where it is, but promises that he'll get the book for him. Mulgarath lets him go and warns him that if he doesn't, he'll go after his family. Jared approaches Simon and tells him that they have to head to the house otherwise they'll be in danger.
Jared and Simon rush back into the house and see that Mallory was outside the toadstools and the goblins start to attack her. Jared throws the stone towards her and Mallory starts fighting them with her fencing sword and rushes back towards the house. When Jared and Simon explained on what's happening, Mallory blames Jared for getting them into trouble. Jared decides that the only way they can find out what to do is to talk to Lucinda at the hospital. The plan is for Jared to carry a fake book while the real one is safe in the chest and Simon distracts the goblins from seeing Jared and Mallory for entering the shed where a secret passage was that leads towards the town. However, that only lasted for a few seconds until they chase after them and send out a troll to get the book. It turns out that Jared had the real book all along to show it to Lucinda. They finally escape and make into the hospital to visit Lucinda (played by Joan Plowright) interacting with flower fairies. She finds out that Jared discovered the book and tells them that the book has done nothing than ruin her family. She was attacked by the goblins after walking away from the toadstools and her father were taking by creatures called Sylphs to protect him after saving Lucinda. She tells them to find Arthur and find a way to destroy the book before Mulgarath gets a hold of it to kill both humans and creatures and become the most powerful creature on Earth. The goblins break into the window and steals a few pages from the book before Lucinda sprinkles salt on their hands and disintegrated them. The nurses and Helen see the children there and takes them home. Jared is upset that Helen won't listen to him about the goblins and ogre attacking them wishing that his dad will take him instead.
When they finally made it to the house, they read the book and learned that Arthur had a pet griffin that can be called with an elfin language. They read the summon and the griffin takes them to the fantasy world where the creatures live and see Arthur interacting with the Sylphs. Jared approaches him asking him for help, but is unaware that 80 years have passed since his disappearance. Since he was clueless on how much time has passed, he couldn't help them at all. It didn't help much since Thimbletack switched the real book with the fake book. Jared calls the griffin to take them home after Arthur distracts the Sylphs from keeping the kids at the world forever. Meanwhile, Mulgarath is punishing the goblins for bringing in a few pages but not the full book. However, the general Redcap brings him a page that talks about how the toadstools go away at the full moon and having the chance to enter the house. That night, Simon, Jared, and Mallory prepare the house for the attack and see Helen's car almost attacked by the goblins. They rush over and lead her to safety and convince her of what's happening thanks to Thimbletack explaining about the goblins coming to the house to find the book. When the goblins attack the house, they use tomato sauce and salt to kill them until Mulgarath is left. Jared finds the book and tries to get rid of it, but Mulgarath follows him and leads him towards the roof. He throws the book away and Mulgarath grabs it while transforming into a crow. Mulgarath is defeated by Hogsqueal eating him. The movie concludes with bringing Lucinda home from the hospital, Arthur coming to see her before he leaves to go back to the world, and Lucinda going with him turning into a little girl again. With that done, everything is back to normal.
When the movie came out, it received mixed to positive reviews at the box office making over $162 million dollars. In my opinion, this movie is...something. First off, the story is simple. Very simple. The same can be said for the characters. They are all either underdeveloped or pointless. Hogsqueak should've been more in the film since there's a reason why he wanted to kill Mulgarath. His family was murdered by Mulgarath and he wanted revenge. Unfortunately, he was barely in the film and when he was, he barely did anything. A good opportunity wasted. Plus, Simon was useless in most of the movie. I'm not going to give him the excuse that he's a pacifist and couldn't fight his own battles until the end of the movie where the plot needed him to fight, he should have been that way in the first place. Take a good example of a pacifist from a Nickelodeon show: Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender. He's a pacifist because the monks taught him that violence isn't the answer and to find a more reasonable way to solve your problems. While at the same time, they fought anyone who would ever hurt them or if someone was in danger for self defense. Simon came across as a wimpy, useless coward more than a pacifist 2/3rds into the movie.
Another problem I have with the movie is that the fantasy world and its creatures weren't anything unique or interesting. Again, the problem being that they're not giving any development. We don't enter into the main fantasy world until an hour into the movie and it's small with maybe one or two creatures and that's it. Plus, the whole plot of Mulgarath wanting the book just to kill everyone and become powerful is so boring and cliched and it took over 40 minutes just to learn that plot point when the average audience knew about it instantly. Mulgarath was evil just for the sake of being evil. Nothing else. But the biggest problem I have with this film are some of the moments in the film either being resolved too quickly, being pointless, or anticlimactic. So, it turns out that the toadstools go away at night when the moon comes up and the goblins never figured this out? They never tried to attack the house at night when they would be the most vulnerable? That doesn't make any sense. What about the scene to call in the griffin to find Arthur? Resolved real quick Also, the scene in which they met up with Arthur to destroy the book? Pointless. The final confrontation with Jared and Mulgarath? Extremely anticlimactic. There are many little moments like that that weigh this movie down a lot. Even the soundtrack is extremely forgettable and sounds a lot like the soundtrack from Casper. But then, they were both done by James Horner and seeing his reputation lately, I'm not surprised on why.
However, there are some good things about this movie. It's well acted for the most part, the effects are nice, and it can be entertaining at times. However, it came out at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian would come out two months after The Spiderwick Chronicles, Iron Man and The Dark Knight would come out and start the boom of superhero movies, and the first Twilight film came out a few months later and fantasy movies pretty much lost their luster. It was no longer trying to be the next Harry Potter or fantasy series, it was trying to be the next Twilight or young adult romantic movie. The Spiderwick Chronicles didn't stand a chance to be a new series telling the rest of the books in movie form. It was too late.
But to conclude it, it's a very barebones fantasy movie that tries itself to be the next Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia, but fails due to a lackluster world with underdeveloped, stereotypical characters and uninteresting magical elements. I can recommend this film for someone who is starting out on fantasy movies, but there are so much better choices for you to choose from.
That's all for now. Tune in next time as we do a double header review for another game show revival and a Nicktoon with My Family's Got GUTS and The Mighty B.
Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.