Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)


Kind of a disappointment, actually.  I realize that adapting five books into a single movie is problematic--though at only 128 pages apiece, the whole series is still shorter than any one of the last four Harry Potter books.  Still, the adaptation felt sloppy and hurried. Some modifications were likely necessary.  Others seemed driven more by budget than anything else.  Still others made no discernible sense whatsoever. Elves became CGI floaty flower-petal-looking things, and the terrifying independent griffin was exchanged for a mere automaton.  And a household brownie cannot seem to make up its mind about the preferred fate of certain forbidden texts. 
In addition to the plot problems, there was a serious character deficiency.  I think the first short novel contained more character development than the entire film.  Jared Grace is allowed a distinctive personality, but his twin, Simon, is defined more by his not-Jared-ness than by any unique personality traits.  Their sister, Malorie, barely occupies two dimensions, let alone three.  In the absence of protagonists with any substance, the stakes seem much lower.  The audience is allowed no time to learn to love the Grace children--to care what happens to them.  Instead, we jump right into the CGI melee and the action never really stops until the movie is over.
That being said, Freddy Highmore handles his role as twins Jared and Simon with considerable skill.  It is the script, not his acting, that renders the characters so uninspiring.  Mary-Louise Parker does frazzled mom quite well, but Joan Plowright seems ill-fitted for her role as Aunt Lucinda.  David Strathairn is utterly wasted here--I have no idea how they convinced him to take such a pointless role.  Perhaps his kids like the books.

Bottom line:  If you're looking for a safe movie for the kids to watch, this is probably a decent choice.   But if the grown-ups are watching, too, you might be better off with a different film.  Or you could always bring a book.

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