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Jonah Echo-s Harry's feeling about THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES!

Hey folks, Harry here... Here's someone much more familiar with the source material, than I - who enjoyed the film quite a bit, much like me. This is a solid family fantasy film - watch out for spoilers...

Jonah Echo’s review of The Spiderwick Chronicles Hey Harry, My wife and I caught a sneak peek of The Spiderwick Chronicles last night, and I thought I’d send in a review. First off, at the screening we attended there was no Indiana Jones trailer. No, the lights went down and we were instantly transported into the world of The Spiderwick Chronicles. When I first saw those initial previews laying out the various fantasy creatures, and typical voice-overs warning of a “world beyond anything you have…blah blah” I wasn’t sure this was going to have much to offer. I have never read the books upon which they are based and so I was more or less blind going in. As the opening credits panned over cob-webbed rooms, taxidermy animals, and various beakers, trinkets and bones we see Arthur Spiderwick penning what will most often be referred to in the film as “the field guide.” Painted images of fairies, sprites, bogarts and trolls swim before our eyes and the sensibility I was expecting at that point brought to mind a snippet from Yeats: Come Away, O human child/ to the water and the wild/ with a fairy hand and hand/ for the world is more full of weeping/than you can understand. Well, that idea of a whimsical fantasy world bordering on the real, reminiscent of something like The Secret of Roan Inish(directed by John Sayles, who actually has a writing credit here!) or Fairy Tale: A True Story is not what this film’s about. In fact, by the end of this, there was another poem fragment brought to mind: The goblins will get ya if you don’t watch out! And, that, at its’ heart is what The Spiderwick Chronicles chooses to focus on- the goblins, trolls and ogres that would like nothing more than to snatch you up if you aren’t aware and clever enough to look for them. It has plenty of magical moments, but there is danger too, something sorely lacking in many children’s fantasies and it is this quality that makes the movie work as well as it does and ended up giving me a nice does of 80’s nostalgia. By no means is this a classic fantasy, or even a great family film like last year’s Bridge to Terabithia, but there is an energetic, creative adventure here and it has the sort of free-wheeling imagination coupled with creepy tension that often delighted me as a child. You see, Arthur Spiderwick penned a book that would serve as an encyclopedia of sorts to the world of the magical and unseen, a world that is juxtaposed just at the edge of ours and often overlapping. He wrote it all down, most of it from personal experience with said creatures and then realized, too later after the fact that various forces in the faery realm wanted to possess the book because of its extensive knowledge. Most notable and deadly of these is Mulgrath, an ogre who would use the book to demolish the magical realm and then turn his sights to the human world. Spiderwick seals the book and hides it away, and then we are dropped 80 years forward from that date to the main event-the arrival of the Grace family and the eventual discovery of the book by young Jared Grace. Once this happens, the film takes off like a bullet, and both the benign and malevolent aspects of the invisible world come calling on the Grace household. There isn’t anything breathtakingly original in the story itself and that’s one of the weaker aspects of Spiderwick Chronicles. The Grace twins (both played by Freddie Highmore in a decent, lively performance that isn’t too labored, especially considering the twin aspect) and their older sister (Sarah Bolger) who spends most of her time fencing, find the book and learn of it’s importance and then spend the rest of the story trying to keep the book out of the wrong hands. Problem is there are a lot of wrong hands. So, the story operates very basically and there aren’t ever enough details for my taste. We know Mulgrath is an ogre, and while his design is terrific and Nick Nolte as both the voice and the human incarnation is just naturally threatening, we literally learn nothing else about him. There are a treasure trove of critters in this and they all look great, but we find out only fleeting things about them, and the field guide appears to be written more like a supermarket rag sheet than an encyclopedia, dishing out only the most sensational secrets and failing to give a balanced view. There is a wonderful griffin that flies the children from the confines of the real world through an amazing display of icy canyons and sun streaked clouds to a place that is…somewhere else. The goblin minions of Mulgrath are lead by a toad-like commander who is dressed like a midget version of Long John Silver. There is a beautiful scene where Joan Plowright’s character sits on a porch, and the flowers let down their petals and reveal themselves as a species of fairy who dance and twirl around her. So much stuff, and often times, the movie barrels along and doesn’t expand on them in a way that would build the magic. There is plenty of that here, but it mostly moves the action forward and doesn’t give us that lasting impression of the creatures as specific characters. The two exceptions are the brownie Thimbletack and the hobgoblin Hogsqueal. These two play advisor and bumbling sidekick, and voiced by Martin Short and Seth Rogen, there is plenty that could go wrong but doesn’t. They are interesting to look at, genuinely funny and lively and keep the exposition bits of the tale moving along in a way that entertains. After that, we have the human characters and the script is better to them. The Grace family is experiencing one of those painful bouts of reality that is a much loved favorite of modern children’s films: the divorce. In this instance, its’ actually handled well, and acted well and the interactions of the siblings as they deal with this difficult truth feels real. Mary Louise Parker handles the harried mother who isn’t just asked to raise these three kids but also protect them from goopy beasts as a real and vulnerable person and that too lends a certain humanity to the story that isn’t always prevalent in the other sections. The subplot that ties Joan Plowright’s mental patient to the long absent Arthur Spiderwick(played just as he should be by David Straithairn)is a nice treat and builds to a poignant moment towards the end that helped give the film some additional closure and prevent it from feeling too much like an “installment.” The sequences when the monsters to come to call aren’t terribly frightening, unless you have very young children, but they are occasionally violent as the Grace family quite often maims or destroys the invaders as they attack. If the goblins were characterized more, we might feel the weight of this but we don’t and it never seems like a terribly big deal. It isn’t quite The Monster Squad, where you have the chubby kid using a shotgun on the gillman, but the same sensibility seems to apply. Overall, The Spiderwick Chronicles delivers what a family film ought to. I think there will be several children out there who are really going to dig this, and the monster designs are good enough that this could have the same effect that many of those great Harryhausen creations or Henson critters had on many of us as kids. If you have children, and you think they can handle this, there’s a good chance the whole family will walk away entertained. If you aren’t dragging a passel of children with you and your interest is more in the fantasy part than the family part you will probably still find enough to keep you entertained but don’t go in expecting a fantasy classic. This is a brisk, engaging adventure that pulls us into another world for an hour and a half, and that isn’t ever as easy as it seems. Take care Harry and co., Jonah Echo
Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 8, 2008, 11:57 p.m. CST

    Not going to lie...

    by PirateEmery

    ...I don't care. I read up until "No Indy Trailer" and then I stopped.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:01 a.m. CST

    I stopped reading at "no Indy trailer"

    by Razorback


  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:20 a.m. CST

    No signs of Indy trailer diminishing faith in movie

    by darth rod

    Is it really that crappy that they won't put even a teaser? man just look at the other high profile films of the summer: wall-e : 3 fucking trailers iron man: 2 trailers dark knight: 2 trailers It also feels like with phantom menace, are we really gonna need to go see some crap generic fantasy flic to watch some seconds o former heroes?

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:22 a.m. CST

    the trailer will likely be there next week

    by Jonah Echo

    I imagine the trailer will show with the movie. It just didn't show with our sneak preview. The movie doesnt release til next week, so Im not even sure if they could show the trailer. I pretty sure the Indy trailer will be there by the time this actually hits the theaters.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:25 a.m. CST

    quoting WB Yeats....

    by Vincenzo1975

    now thats cool, I remember that line from the waterboys song"old england is dying"

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1 a.m. CST

    SpiderDICK Chronicles

    by thebearovingian

    First! Pwned.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:03 a.m. CST

    Confirmed by Variety, trailer next week, 14th Feb.

    by wadi77<p> Par will attach the first teaser for "Crystal Skull" to fantasy pic "The Spiderwick Chronicles" on Feb. 14, with the spot to hit the Web shortly thereafter. <p> Reason for the delay is that the film only recently wrapped, so much of the material that would go into a memorable trailer just wasn't ready until now.<p> Awareness and anticipation also is already high for the pic, so producers didn't feel the need to show too much too soon.<p> "In the case of Indiana Jones, he's such a well-known character that it's not like you have to get out there and introduce something new," said Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy. "You tailor the campaign to the material. We also want to keep a lot of the surprises. That's part of the fun."

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:15 a.m. CST

    Post Potter Cash Scramble

    by DOGSOUP

    That's all this is.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:20 a.m. CST

    Harry also confirmed last week...

    by wadi77

    Indy trailer will be attached to Spiderwick on February 14th.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:22 a.m. CST

    Just so we're on the same page...

    by PirateEmery

    ... Harry and Moriarty have confirmed on multiple occasions that the Indy Trailer is attached to Spiderwick Chronicles. The Variety story just "officially" confirms something we've known for weeks.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:35 a.m. CST

    The Riddick Chronicles

    by Pipple

    heh, when is Vin Diesel going to get back into Riddick mode again anyway? i want to see it even though the last movie was kinda gay.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 2:23 a.m. CST

    Indiana Jones and the only reason to see that movie

    by skywalkerfamily

    But the trailer will be on the net anyway, so I'll save a few dollars.

  • Jonah Echo's quote: "I have never read the books upon which they are based and so I was more or less blind going in." Harry = Dumbass who can't read

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 4:34 a.m. CST

    Does David Bowie and his package make a cameo?

    by Mike_D

    complete with spandex pants?

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 4:57 a.m. CST

    Rob Zombie should direct the sequel

    by ebolamonkey

    He's a fresh voice who can really shake up a franchise!

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 5 a.m. CST


    by kwisatzhaderach

    thanks for the laughs

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 6:20 a.m. CST


    by Uncle_Pooch

    no trailer with my sneak... movie was good tho

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST


    by BurgerTime

    when the most ineresting thing about a new release are the trailers that may or may not play in front of it. Pathetic really.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 10:29 a.m. CST

    So familiar witht the source material because he's a plant

    by PervOmatic

    Source material = studio approved review

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 10:40 a.m. CST

    LOL He didnt read the books

    by Gungan Slayer

    LOL The guy didnt read the books...LOL. anyway, I plan on seeing this for the Indy trailer, but also for the effects...ILM is working on this film, but I'm probably more interested in seeing what Tippet Studios has done for it.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 11:36 a.m. CST

    Sad Commentary?

    by PirateEmery

    I don't think so.<p> As of this May, we've been waiting 19 years for an Indy sequel. To worship a movie that has the FIRST trailer attached to, is not an insane concept.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:11 p.m. CST

    Episode I Teaser

    by Gungan Slayer

    Remember that one folks? REMEMBER THAT ONE!

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Anyone else bothered

    by Embeedeuce

    that the Indy trailer is going before Spiderwick? What does that say about the target audience? I know I'm 20 plus years older than when Raiders came out, but it wasn't a kids movie. If they were doing an E.T. sequel or Goonies, then definitely put it before Spiderwick. But Indiana Jones? Really?

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST


    by mascan42

    It's called pumping up a movie that nobody would go to see otherwise. Kinda like putting the Phantom Menace trailer in front of Wing Commander.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST

    Good point.

    by Embeedeuce

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 1:53 p.m. CST

    The Indy Trailer is attached to this?!

    by PirateEmery

    I honestly hadn't heard...

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 2:02 p.m. CST

    Indy trailer

    by skimn

    is attached to Spiderwick because its a Paramount release...the next Paramount title is Drillbit Taylor coming out late March...if you would rather wait till then. The Variety article explained it nicely.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 4:49 p.m. CST

    Regarding Indy and Spiderwick

    by Jonah Echo

    Well, Im definitely not a plant. Honestly, I also thought the movie looked rather generic but my wife got some free tickets and I too figured it couldnt be worse than Golden Compass, which I actually paid money for.Truth is it is primarily a flick for kids, but its an enjoyable film and while it is derivative of other things I wouldnt call it generic. It has some real imagination and creativity, especially behind the creatures. It isn't just going through the motions which is what I thought Lemony Snicket and GC were basically doing, though their initial conciets were far more interesting. The film isnt just happy characters and contrived sequences. Like I said, the inclusion of danger improves it. MILD SPOILERS The goblin armies actually bite and slash the children as they attack, and since they are often invisible, you typically just see Highmore freaking out as giant teeth marks and bloody wounds show up on his body. Later in the film, Joan Plowright's character reveals how she wound up in the mental hospital. In trying to protect the book, she was attacked and she shows her arm with long, ragged scars running down it and says something like"They said suicide attempt. I said goblins, and they put me in here." All of this just to point out this isn't as pat or typical as it initially looked. SPOILERS END Also, I agree that idolizing Indy and ignoring most everything else is probably just setting ourselves up for failure. I want this to work as much as anyone, and I was dissapointed there was no trailer. However, I recall the Phantom Menace debacle. Matrix was released first, and while several people saw it, they kept chalking its success up to the growing interest in the new Star Wars. Every movie in that year before Menace was overshadowed, and then there was the MASSIVE backlash. This looks like a better than average year for flicks. In this month alone Im still looking forward to Jumper and Be Kind, Rewind. My intention is to enjoy as much as I can, while not making excuses for the bad and hopefully when I finally SEE Indy, I can be this excited for it because it deserves my excitement.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 6:19 p.m. CST


    by BurgerTime

    Dude, I've been to flicks where people left the theatre after seeing the trailer they wanted to see. What the fuck is that?! Have we really gotten to the point as a culture where people are so obsessed with "what's next" that they completely ignore what's here now? Sadly, yes.

  • It worked a lot better for the fantasy movies back in the 80s like "Legend" and "Labrynth".

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 7:07 p.m. CST

    Lol Legend

    by skywalkerfamily

    That movie looked cheap and sucked ass.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 8:39 p.m. CST

    Did they render the CGI on a Commodor 64?

    by I Dunno

    Based on the ads, wow that looks bad.

  • Feb. 9, 2008, 8:48 p.m. CST


    by Kingdaddy

    'The Hottie and the Nottie' review? Daniel Day Lewis said only Heath Ledger was more influential on his life than this new Paris stunner!!!

  • Feb. 10, 2008, 12:52 a.m. CST

    Timex Sinclair

    by Red Shirt

    I think they used the might of the Timex Sinclair to render their CGI! Look that up in your Funk and Wagnells...

  • Feb. 10, 2008, 6:37 a.m. CST

    I never thought you were a plant, Jonah....

    by Prof. Pop-Cult

    I think whatever criticism and trolling you are getting about being a plant is based on -- constructive criticism I'm about to give you here -- that your opinion doesn't come across as clearly decisive enough. It reads to me that you are being awfully "nice" towards this film, when in fact I get the sense you would be (if you otherwise had paid to go see this film) bored to hell with it. I'm not criticizing you for this. But after reading your review and your follow-up in the Talkback, I just sense this film is a bore. With the cost of a movie ticket these days, and the time and patience required to deal with the cineplex environment, I certainly don't want to bother with this movie, the way you describe it and the way your enthusiasm (or lack of) is towards it.

  • Feb. 10, 2008, 8:38 a.m. CST


    by Jonah Echo

    The last two reviews here were very positive and one of them referred to it as one fantasy fans were waiting for. In honesty, I didnt feel that once while watching it, but at the same time I was entertained by what I saw while sensing I wasn't the demographic they were targeting here. AICN might be the wrong place for this review, but thats how it is. I think I described it accurately, and if you think you will be bored Prof, then I honestly think that is closer to the reaction you will feel than if I used alot of hyperbole. If I paid for the ticket, I wouldnt have been disappointed, but I was let down it wasnt all it was made out to be in other reviews. I will say I won't be catching it at the theater next weekend, Indy or no, but I will pickit up on dvd.