The Spiderwick Chronicles - Movie Review

The Spiderwick Chronicles


After the dismal box office failure of the wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events, the polar opposite money printer of the Harry Potter series coming to a close, and the numerous retellings of Charlotte's Web and Bridge to Terabithia, studios are basically grasping at straws for another literary tale to bring to the screen. All they had left was the Spiderwick Chronicles, which, I'm afraid, I don't know of anyone who has actually read. The good news is that this means I was able to walk into this screening with fresh eyes, along with the innocent expectations of a child.
First, let's look at what the Spiderwick Chronicles does right. The special effects are fairly well executed. Although I know they'll look dated in a few months or years, it has some sparse moments that really do look fantastic. The acting is also fine. The central character, and his "twin" brother, are predictably played by the same actor. It's that little kid from Finding Neverland (I'm not going to bother IMDBing his name) who has since appeared in a number of other films as that same little kid. This time he has varied his resume by playing a slightly older version of that kid with an American accent which very clearly slips into a British accent at the most inopportune moments. He does his best, but I have to say,there is something very unlikeable with his character. The story is unimaginatively imaginative, which is a way of saying it's standard goblin and magic fair. Pretty much all the solutions to problems can be boiled down to magical tomato sauce rather than mind power. It doesn't take much to just accept it, but it takes a lot to make it likable enough to swallow in one gulp. So this is where we get into what's wrong with the Spiderwick Chronicles, and by that I mean it's storytelling.
Once upon a time, every good children's book gave the central characters a very simple and effective motivation. They simply killed off the parents. The resulting orphan was then forced to deal with a whole host of unexpected consequences and confront the world on his own terms. The problem nowadays is that the main characters are born into crumbling families who have split apart and are structurally collapsing. Divorce, affairs, domestic abuse, these are the new catalysts for action. Forget about offing the folks, kids have to now assume that void as responsible adults and piece together the shattered remnants of the past. And as Max Payne so delightfully put it, "The past is a puzzle, like a broken mirror. As you piece it together, your image keeps shifting. And you change with it." Where exactly that puts us, I don't know. I just wanted to quote Max Payne.
So here's my point, watching the Spiderwick Chronicles is one thing. It's a fun romp through the fantasy forest, no matter how gay that sounds. However, it's a whole 'nother ball park to think about the Spiderwick Chronicles. Let me provide an example, at one point the central character is tempted by a goblin who has taken the physical form of a close loved one. Unfortunately I can't expand on that, but I can say that this loved one had caused significant emotional turmoil. Luckily, the boy see's through the facade and immediately stabs the goblin in the chest.
Here's my problem. The film casually glances over the fact that if the boy is willing to stab the goblin, he is actually willing to be wrong. He's willing to take the chance that he could be crazy, or the loved one is actually there. Essentially, he's willing to kill another human being, and he's glad to.
A children's story is meant to reinforce the age old adage that "love conquers all." It is supposed to teach us that if you have to fight for something, you fight for life. The Spiderwick Chronicles is not about that. It's about who do you hate more? The Goblins or the people you are close to? Who hurts you more? Who do you hate less? It's not about salvation, but damnation.
It's not worth ten bucks.

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