The Spiderwick Chronicles
Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Sarah Bolger. (2008, PG, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 22, 2008
The advent of computer-generated imaging is a mixed blessing for films like The Spiderwick Chronicles. The sophisticated special effects made possible by CGI can bring a fantasy world to life as never before, and yet they can also overwhelm the human element in a film to the point of distraction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy managed to keep it real despite its heavily laden special effects, while more than one of the Harry Potter movies just seemed like a showcase for the technical wizardry of computer geeks. Based on the bestselling series of children’s books created by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles starts off promisingly by empathetically depicting the fear and anger children feel when their parents separate, but ultimately its human emotions are dominated by goblins, trolls, and other CGI-generated creatures running amok on the screen. (Nolte’s turn as a horrible ogre hell-bent on world domination, however, gives the movie an enjoyable spark.) Leaving New York City to start a new life in the country, Helen Grace (the always wonderful Parker) and her three children move into the mysterious and run-down Spiderwick Estate that she has inherited. Weird things begin to happen once the family starts to settle in, and the embittered son Jared (Highmore, who is starting to resemble an adolescent Haley Joel Osment) is blamed. As it would happen, however, the kids discover a terrible secret within the walls of the crumbling mansion, one in which the fate of the world hangs in balance. Young moviegoers will like the way the film empowers their cinematic peers in this battle of good against evil, though smaller children will probably be scared out of their wits by the ferocity of some of the movie’s otherworldly baddies. And what will their parents think of having to sit through The Spiderwick Chronicles? Unlike their experience with most family fare aimed at the kids, it’s likely they won’t be wishing they were somewhere else.