There are a lot of uses for the ever growing technology that pervades our lives. We can now take our phones, computers and even televisions with us everywhere. One of the best reasons to be glad of all this new technology is the effect it has had on the art of cinema. The most welcomed place things like computer graphics and green screen photography is bring children’s novels to life. Sure we all love the big budget action flicks and the fantastic science fiction movies but it is with the films geared towards younger audiences that the new methods of generating special effects is so fantastic. For a long time authors of children’s books have held the attention of their young readers by populating their books with incredible creatures of their imaginations. The have set their stories in places that could never actually exist in this mundane world of ours. Now, with the help of all this new technology these creatures and places can be brought to life to flame the imaginations of their audiences. One of the latest examples of this is the new film ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’. This is an adaptation of the very popular series of children’s books from the wonderful and creative minds of writer Holly Black and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. The world they create in these novels could not have been done properly before now. Anything that inspires a child to imagine and think is something to be cherished and now this film is on DVD, released by Paramount Home Entertainment, so generations to come can watch, wonder and enjoy.
Translating the set of novels into a screenplay was done by three very experienced and talented writers. You just don’t hand a childhood classic over to a bunch of newcomers and expect to do the books justice. Karey Kirkpatrick also co-produced this film along side the two authors of the books. It is always preferred to have the originators there to make sure the integrity of their stories is maintained. Kirkpatrick has a lot on her resume making her perfect here. She has penned the scripts for such kid hits as the 2006 live action version of ‘Charlotte's Web’, ‘Over the Hedge’ and ‘Chicken Run’. She also wrote the whimsical ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Kirkpatrick is used to writing intelligent screenplays that both children and their parents can enjoy together. David Berenbaum also has some credits in this arena. He wrote the family friendly flicks ‘Elf’ and ‘Zoom’. The later gave him some know how in bringing action to the screen for this audience. Lastly there is John Sayles. He has more time with films for older audiences. Among his works is ‘The Howling’, ‘Brother from Another Planet’ and ‘Eight Men Out’. His contribution assured that the adults watching will still be interested and engaged. Together the trio provided a well crafted story that remains faithful to the spirit and feel of the novels. Together they create a tapestry of mystery, suspense and action that will pull in viewers of all ages.
At the helm of this new classic was Mark Waters. He directed Lindsey Lohan in two flicks; ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Mean Girls’. Just for a chance of pace he also directed the Indy hit ‘The House of Yes’. Making a film that is entertaining to both children and their parents has to be one of the difficult challenges for a director. The grown ups want more depth to the story while the kids need fast pace action. Waters does a great job of finding just the right middle ground. Fantasy movies like this lately have tended to be epic in their length. This one comes in at about 100 minutes. This is just enough to set up the new fantastic world and tell the story without dragging on and making the children fidget in their seats. The pace is brisk; moving the story along at a good clip. Fans of the books will note that some of the rich details they contained are missing from the movie. This is not uncommon and people should realize that these are two different formats for storytelling. What was retained was the essence of the tale. It is a mixture of the fantastic and the everyday. The children have to fight creatures of the imagination while coping with the divorce of their parents and relocating to a new home. As with all great fantasy there has to be a foot firmly grounded in reality and this movie has it. Without this the children in the audience will not be able to fully identify with the kids in the film. Just a cautionary note here this subject matter may get a little too intense for the youngest children in your family. If you do let them watch be prepared for a few nightmares and having to talk to them about the real life tribulations depicted here. The film is heavily invested in computer graphics and green screens. It is amazing how well the children acting here do performing opposite creatures that would only be added later in post production. The CGI shots are seamlessly integrated into the movie so that even the adults will start to believe.
Young twins Jared and Simon Grace (both played by Freddie Highmore) find out that they have to move from their familiar home to a creepy looking estate, The Spiderwick. The reason for the move is the impending divorce of their mother (Mary-Louise Parker) from their father (Andrew McCarthy). Long with their sister Molly (Sarah Bolger) the children reluctantly get acquainted with their new environment. At the estate they meet their great aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright) who is up there in age. As the kids begin to explore the house Molly discovers a dumbwaiter while Jared finds a key with a monogram on it. After some further exploration the children come up the study of the late owner of the estate, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). In there Jared uses the key to open a chest and finds a book inside. It is labeled the ‘Field Guide to Faries’, and was written by the late Mr. Spiderwick. Later Jared is approached by a brownie named Thimbletack (Martin Short). He explains to the boy that the world is full of mystical creatures that can normally only be seen if they want to. Spiderwick had placed a magical circle of protection around the estate but Thimbeltack gives Jared a magical stone he can use to see the fairies around him. The uncovering of the field guide has ignited a furor in the magical community. One of the darker members of that world, the ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) wants the book and the information it contains. This will allow him to rule all the fairies. He can change shape at will making him a very difficult enemy too defeat. All three of the children are pulled into a battle too save the innocent fairies from enslavement.
Paramount is known for great DVD releases but they have outdone themselves with this one. There is a single disc Pan & Scan and widescreen versions available. Let’s not talk about the P&S; get your kids used to seeing movies in their original aspect ratio as soon as possible. If possible go for the two disc Field Guide Edition. It has everything on the single disc variation plus a whole disc with more extras than you could imagine. This film was mastered in anamorphic 2.35:1 video with an excellent Dolby 5.1 audio. For those with high end systems Paramount has a Blu-ray edition as well.
Spiderwick: Meet the Clan
There is one more variation to look for; the Deluxe Collector’s Trunk. This is something to behold. First of all the package is heavy and well worth the extra cost. It is in the form of a treasure chest with a magnetic closure. Inside are all five of the books and a paperback copy of the Field Guide. If that isn’t enough there are also six color prints. The beauty of this is you can get your kids to read the books after watching the movie. No matter how you choose to get this movie make sure you bring it home and enjoy it with the whole family.