Thursday, March 13, 2008

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES - beautifully made children's fantay film

If they say 'suicide' and you say 'goblins', this place is where they put you.THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is a beautifully made, well-acted, children's fantasy adventure.

A young boy, angry at his parents' separation, discovers a curious field guide to a magical world of faeries, goblins and sylphs. Problem is, an evil ogre wants to steal the book and use its collected knowledge to rule the magical world. So much for the plot. The real meat of the movie is a story about children who have to live without their fathers, and the importance of family.

The great thing about SPIDERWICK is that the wonderfully-rendered CGI effects never swamp the story. Indeed, director Mark Waters takes an admirable amount of time to establish the human story before he unleashes the magical world. I also think that the casting is spot-on, and helps us feel real empathy for the characters. Freddie Highmore pulls off playing both twins - giving each a distinctive character and voice. Sarah Bolger and Mary-Louise Parker are believable as the big sister, mature before her time, and the mother at the end of her tether. But I especially like th casting of Nick Nolte as the ogre; David Strathairn as the author of the field-guide; and Joan Plowright as his grown up daughter Lucinda. Joan Plowright has the most amazingly sympathetic, twinkling eyes, and it's a pleasure to have her back on the big screen. The voice-work is also great, with Martin Short playing a sweet little brownie called Thimbletack who morphs into the angry Bograt; and Seth Rogen as the cowardly but kind-hearted Hogsqueal.

My only reservations about this movie aren't really concerned with the film-makers but with the source material. I was never particularly convinced by the internal logic of the fantasy world. (Then again, if you have Tolkien as your benchmark, everything seems thin by comparison). Moreover, I never felt the stakes were high enough. I don't think we see enough of the fantasy world to care about it's destruction and the script didn't make it very clear whether the human world was really at risk from the ogre, beyond the family itself.

Still, these are all comparatively small quibbles that might concern adults but not the kids. THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is sure to keep children amused (at least those who aren't so young as to be scared by a pretty mean looking ogre who can morph into a snake).

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES opened in February 2008 in the US, Canada, the Philippines and South Korea. It opened earlier in MArch in Thailand, Mexico, Poland and Finland. It opens this weekend in the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Singapore, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Venezuela. It opens next weekend in Belgium, Argentina, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Italy, Panama, Romania, South Africa and the UK. It opens on March 26th in Egypt and in April in Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand, France, Serbia and Montenegro, India and Japan.

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