The beginning of each year is a tough time for cinemaphiles. We’ve just come off the big holiday season and are rolling into award season. For the most part, all the great films of the previous year have been released, and the January and February slates seem pretty grim.
However, sometimes there are some gems to be found. In 2008, it was The Spiderwick Chronicles, which released on Valentine’s Day. Now, looking back during its DVD release, the film is still holding up as one of the better films of the year and easily the first great film of 2008.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a film adaptation of the book series by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. It rolls their five-book box set into a single screenplay about three siblings who fight fantastic creatures in their own back yard. One of the kids has found a book, a field guide to these fantastic creatures. However, the evil ogre Mulgarath wants the book from them so he can rule this world. The kids eventually have to defend their home – and themselves – from Mulgarath and his army of goblins.
The greatest appeal to me for this film is exactly what the filmmakers and original authors tout in the special features. Rather than being a fantasy story in another country (like Harry Potter in Britain) or another time (like The Chronicles of Narnia) or in a different world altogether (like The Lord of the Rings), this movie takes place right here in present-day America. (Of course, it was filmed in Montreal, but we’ll let that be for now.)
While a lot can relate to a young boy going to a wizards school, I still consider The Spiderwick Chronicles to be one of the most relateable fantasy films in a long time. The kids have real problems and a real life. They just happen to stumble upon these creatures in their new home.
Featuring some excellent special effects, which are most impressive when subtly duplicating actor Freddie Highmore into the role of both twins Jared and Simon. Highmore turns in a solid performance (well, two actually), as we have come to expect from the little actor. But Sarah Bolger holds her own against him as sister Mallory. Additionally, a strong supporting voice cast – including Martin Short as a brownie/boggart, Seth Rogan as a hobgoblin and Ron Pearlman as the goblin leader – brings the fantasy creatures to life.
While the rather intense PG-rated film is going to be a hit with younger viewers, there’s enough fantasy action and violence that you’ll want to be sure the real little kids aren’t too scared. But if they can handle the action and the monster effects, it’s a great film for the whole family.
The DVD comes in a double-disc set, subtitled the “Field Guide Edition.” It is so named because the feature disc includes an interactive field guide from Arthur Spiderwick’s journal. This gives a breakdown of the characters and creatures in the movie and allows viewers to jump to a scene that features the subject of the entry.
Other special features on the first disc include an overly committed explanation of how the Spiderwick realm is completely true. Fortunately, this doesn’t trickle down through the other features and doesn’t kill the DVD for being too clever.
The second disc includes an introduction to the different characters in the film, a making-of documentary, a look at the world of Spiderwick, deleted scenes, Nickelodeon television spots and theatrical trailers. There’s also a final note from director Mark Waters, reminding us that it’s all true. Yeah… it was clever once, but the ruse does get a bit old.
Still, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fantastic film that can appeal to both kids and adults.
THE UPSIDE: The first great film of 2008.
THE DOWNSIDE: Only five books, all covered in this film. That’s a dangerous path for a sequel.
ON THE SIDE: Don’t really blow up your oven filled with tomato sauce. It’s a pain to clean.