The Spiderwick Chronicles: 2-Disc Field Guide Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Having to deal with a new and painful separation, a mother and her three kids move into an old house in the woods. Mallory (Sarah Bolger), the oldest and only daughter, seems the strongest and the one who helps her mother out the most in dealing with this difficult situation. Twins Simon and Jared (both played by Freddie Highmore) couldn’t be more different. Simon is straight-laced, with tucked in shirts and khakis, and is a self-proclaimed pacifist. Jared is a bit of a rebel. He misses his dad and lashes out at his mother and his siblings, even punching and kicking objects around him. He’s mopey and moody, and wants his dad to come take him away.

Their first night in the house, Jared finds a dumb-waiter in the kitchen and finds that it leads to an attic full of cool stuff. He finds a key and discovers that it opens a dusty trunk. Inside the trunk is a mysterious book with a warning note on it. Despite the warning of impending doom, Jared reads the book. It’s called “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You,” written by Jared’s great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Eighty years ago, he wrote down all of the secrets of the world of goblins and pixies and fairies that he discovered and put them all in this book. The minute that Jared reads this information, the house is in danger. The goblin king Mulgarath wants these secrets so that he can become powerful and take over these hidden worlds. The house becomes under constant attack by his army of goblins who want to take the book from Jared. Jared, Simon, and Mallory must band together to defeat this army and keep the book and their family safe.

If I lost your attention when I said “goblins and pixies and fairies,” let me attempt to rein you back in. This is not Happy Rainbow Unicorn Land where everyone stops to frolic through the tulips to “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.” When those goblins attack the house, it’s all out war. The kids get scratched, bit, and hurt by these things. They ain’t playin’ around. The goblins and all the other types of mythical creatures who make up Mulgarath’s army are scary. Mulgarath, a shape-shifting baddie who strikes fear in everyone because he kills anything and everything that gets in his way, is played by Nick Nolte. He doesn’t seem very menacing in his first form, an old man, but at the end of the movie, he transforms into someone very important to the family and provides a very tense and scary finale to the film.

Freddie Highmore is impressive in this film, tackling two very different roles. He’s had quite the career already at his age, and his acting skills just keep getting better. Hopefully he won’t fall the way of the typical cute kid who is no longer cute after adolescence. He performs both roles in this film seamlessly and with maturity. Sarah Bolger, who was previously in Premonition and In America, is great as older sister Mallory. She added a lot of life to the film and was fun to watch. Mary-Louise Parker, whom I’ve adored since Fried Green Tomatoes and whom everyone loves from Showtime’s Weeds, has become one of those actresses that I’m just excited to see no matter what she’s in. She adds depth to a character that could be overshadowed amidst the kids and the goblins.

Now for the question I was most interested in hearing the answer to when I was considering taking my kids: Is it too scary? Well, it depends. My eight-year-old son is deathly scared of this movie. The tense and scary ending that I was talking about earlier gave him nightmares. He refuses to watch it again. My five-year-old daughter? She loved every minute. She wants to watch this movie every chance she can get. So really, it just depends on what your kids can handle. Every parent should have a pretty good idea. Overall, it’s harmless fantasy fun.

The Spiderwick Chronicles isn’t as kid-oriented as you may think. It’s deep and tackles issues such as divorce and the disappointment associated with it. But it handles its issues in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids and still makes everything very easy to understand. Fans of the books need not be discouraged either. While every detail may not be exactly the same, the film does an excellent job of keeping the tone of the books. With the intensive promotions this movie has thanks to the producers, Nickelodeon Studios, The Spiderwick Chronicles should become a summer movie watching staple this year. And with the very talented cast and action-packed story, it is one that parents will enjoy just as much as the kids.

This movie is gorgeous! The colors are crisp and brilliant. Same goes for the Dolby Digital Surround Sound. This genre of film is usually the perfect genre to test out your home theater system, and Spiderwick pulls out all the stops.

The two disc edition is chock full of features. And yes, the title of every feature ends with an exclamation mark.

Disc 1 includes the feature film and the following:

Spiderwick: It’s all True! – This feature is narrated by director Mark Waters. At the beginning, he tells us that he is going to teach us more about the world of Spiderwick. He tells us that we need salt, honey, crackers & tomato juice (Sound weird? You’ll get it when you see the movie.), and then he puts a Seeing Stone over our eyes and shows us each character. Very cute, but ends a little awkwardly. (7:06)

It’s a Spiderwick World! – The story behind the story. The two authors of the books, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, talk about how three children from Maine really thought that there were fairies around their house. These children sent them so many convincing letters, that the two authors went to visit them where they were presented with fairy “evidence”. (8:45)

Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide – An interactive version of the field guide shown in the movie. You can click on each character or type of creature to learn more about them, and you can click to see each character or type of creature as they are shown in the film.

Field Guide: In Movie Mode – This is a feature that you can turn on and while watching the movie, a book will pop up in the corner of your screen. You can click the book to learn more about what is going on in the movie.

Previews: The Indiana Jones trilogy, and Kung Fu Panda

Disc 2:

Spiderwick: Meet the Clan! – This feature is all about the cast and casting the film. The list of great actors in this film is so long! Fun fact learned while watching this feature: The authors wanted the story set in America to add to the authenticity and realism of the story for kids. So they cast a kid from England as Jared/Simon (Freddie Highmore) and a kid from Dublin, Ireland as Mallory (Sarah Bolger). They both took classes together to perfect their American accents. (13:54)

Making Spiderwick! – The authors of the books are so young! They’re in just about every feature, which I love. They’re so involved with the movie making process. Anyway, this feature is all about making the sets, filming on location, all the props, creatures, CGI and the score. There is also some footage of Seth Rogen providing the voice for Hogsqueal, and an interview with David Strathairn. This is one heck of a detailed Making Of! (20:53)

A Final Word of Advice! – Mark Waters telling us once more that everything in the Spiderwick world is real.

Four deleted scenes, the Nickelodeon TV spots (which, if you have kids, you’ve already seen) and theatrical trailers finish off the disc.

The Spiderwick Chronicles has been one of my favorite kids movies this year. It’s a faithful adaptation of the book series and will become a classic. However, unless you’re already a fan of the books or you absolutely LOVE the movie, I wouldn’t recommend the two disc edition. As much as I enjoy the movie, it was all a little bit of overkill.

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Paramount and Nickelodeon Films present The Spiderwick Chronicles. Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Nick Nolte, Freddie Highmore, Joan Plowright. Written by Karey Kirkpatrick & David Berenbaum. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: June 24, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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