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The Spiderwick Chronicles (2009)

The Spiderwick Chronicles. Feature film. (2008, 96 mins) IMDB

...Fun for the whole family...

I

t was clear from the DVD this film was for children, but even though I was a bit reluctant to watch I decided to do so and I wasn't disappointed. I had heard the name, SPIDERWICK, but it meant nothing, other than in relation to this film which I knew nothing about. As I watched the film, I discovered the name is a family name. There's Arthur Spiderwick and his young daughter Lucinda Spiderwick.

The film starts out 80 years ago where a naturalist is documenting nature in a large room. A laboratory if you will. Butterflies pinned in place, snakes jammed in glass jars. There's drawings and notes. Pages of them. The room Arthur works in is filled with these items and in a flash it's over and we're in the present when a mother and three children arrive at the very same house.

It's odd they move into a house in the darkness of night. Odd still the house hasn't changed much in all these years, but it's a movie and without any of it, there wouldn't be a story.

There's a young adolescent daughter who is into sword fighting. Can't imagine that would play part of the story. Then there's the younger brothers. Simon and Jared. Simon is a lawyer or accountant type. Doesn't want to get his hands dirty and we don't hear from him a lot. Then there's Jared. (Same actor for both roles). The story focuses on him and his antics. He's a young boy who gets into trouble. His sister and mother accuse him of everything and usually they're right except as they've moved into the house, he didn't steal his mother's car keys nor his sister's medals.

And what are those eerie noises coming from the walls?

As he investigates the sounds, he discovers a hidden world behind the walls. A pack rat of sorts took the keys and medals and any number of things. As he searches further, rising up in a dumb-waiter, he discovers a secret room--the room Arthur used at the start of the film and in that room he discovers a fantastical world of creatures we don't see and a book explaining it all. In 80 years the room was left untouched. Covered in dust. Again, it's a movie.

That someone else wants that book becomes the central line of the plot. That someone else is the ogre voiced by Nick Notle. The ogre leads a troop of toads in the quest for the book--the book in possession of our hero.

These creatures can't be seen unless they want you to seem them or if you look through a special eye-piece or if a certain bird-eating pig happens to spit into your eyes. It's all part of the fantasy. There are certain POV issues that arise because of this fact, but it's a minor complaint.

The fantasy doesn't end there because there wouldn't be much of a movie. The ogre and his buddies would simply walk into the house and grab the book, but they can't. There's a circle of security surrounding the house which prevents them from entering. As long as the kids and book are within the circle they are safe.

They have other defences. Salt. Tomato sauce. Swords. Knifes.

The entire premise of this story reminded me of JUMANJI, but I would argue this film is more enjoyable because there are more interesting characters instead of wild animals devoid of personality. Here we have Thimblejack who is mild and helpful until he blows a fuse like a drunk Irishman, but give him a cracker with honey and he calms down. There's Hogsqueal who wants to help but every time he sees a bird, he drops everything to grab his snack. Characters make a story and this film is filled with them.

So how come JURASSIC PARK worked and JUMANJI didn't. There's similarities. Answer. Guess. Even though the animals of Jurassic didn't have much personality, the special effects were novel.

Back to this film.

It was a fun, enjoyable ride even if I'm not sure what a goblin, ogre, or brownie are, nor the ten other words used to describe these non-real characters.

So how does it end? First, the circle of security is blow away. How? The ogre gets part of the book with the magic spell for destroying it, but they must wait for a full moon. When it arrives, the shield is gone and he and his toads storm the house. By this point, the family is all together in believing something is going on and not just Jared with a wild imagination.

Using swords, knifes, salt and tomato sauce they battle the toads. Many a splatter later, it's just the ogre left who shape shifts into a giant snake to capture the book from Jared. Then onto the roof for another duel where the ogre changes again into a raven and flies off with the book except the helpful Hogsqueal, always looking for a bird to catch and eat, grabs the raven and in one gulp the bird and therefore the ogre is gone.

It's an exciting ending and well developed. No cheating here. It's reminds me of the ending of ALADDIN.

Posted 2009/03/02 at 20h58ET in Movie Commentary.

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