Blu-ray Review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

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The Spiderwick Chronicles
Paramount Home Entertainmen
Directed by: Mark Waters

Review by: Lance Rhinehart

Film Overview:

Set in a traditional old abandoned house with a mysterious history, the Grace family (or at least part of the family) move into their new home to make a fresh start of things. And even though the characters in the film have been set in the transition of a “starting over” scenario, unseen and unsuspected forces reveal themselves to Jared (Jason Highmore) and his two siblings. An unsealing of their ancestor’s research (Arthur Spiderwick’s field guide) brings about a series of fantastic events that cannot be undone but must be seen through to the end. Upon the realization that the kids and their mother are in danger, the rebellious Jared must undergo some changes and come to terms with the understanding of himself, his relationship with his family, and most assuredly his world view.

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To Jared, his twin brother (also played by Highmore) and their sensible older sister Mallory, the unseen aspects of people and daily lives become revealed in as magical a way as do the fairy folk of Arthur Spiderwick’s field guide. Battling goblins within and without is the thematic force in this film. The kids find allies and enemies in the strangest places and also find that their expectations are rarely followed by reality. This film yields an all-star cast including Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright, Nick Nolte, and Martin Short.

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Critique:

The three kids and their mother find themselves faced with the age-old dilemma found in countless tales of a fairy flavor. In short, they can adapt to their new situation or they can resist the changes and find anxiety as an inevitable result. It sounds simple, but The Spiderwick Chronicles explores said dilemma by infusing a trio of characters whose very identities act as a kind of key which unlocks the solution to their problem. Unfortunately, the characters must choose an inherent “grace” which ironically has been hinted at in the family name. In no uncertain terms, the characters have to see the magic which comes only from losing a myopic view of themselves and to accept that some changes cannot be resisted. For by resisting they only set loose the “goblins” that lurk in the dark places of the human soul. Suffice it to say that goblins both literal and figurative play a significant role in teaching the Grace family a very important lesson in putting aside petty, sibling rivalry long enough to see the unseen. To be excessively plain, I am not just talking about magical fairy creatures living among us; I also refer to tenderness (and grace) that can become buried under years of frustration, and hurtful experiences.

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One of the more interesting aspects of the film that removes it from its generally cliché plot structure is the drama that exists within the family, yet still outside of the main storyline. And even though the two intermingle, and therefore add a sense of realism to what is basically a fairytale, they can and should be treated separately for the purpose of examining the refreshing storyline in the midst of the mundane. Even if one were to remove the Spiderwick legacy from the story, interestingly, a compelling story remains. Conversely, to remove the Grace family drama and observe only the tale surrounding the field guide, we are left with a classic adventure-hero story arc. Many worthwhile films have been created around less; with The Spiderwick Chronicles, the combination of two relatively well woven story frames makes it work for the cinema, and gives a fairytale an infusion of modern day drama that is all too real to ignore. The two frames act as a smooth mechanism to address the inherent question of why should I suspend my disbelief for this one? The answer is that it provides a worry-free excuse to do something that most or all of us either still wish to do, or at least wished for as kids. And of course that is to have a reason to believe in fairytales. And before you doubt that we all want to believe…think about why the field guide’s protection is so important. Yes, so that the evil forces do not reign unchecked and demolish all that is good. But wait a moment, how is that idea much different than our hope for Arthur Spiderwick to reunite with his daughter, or the Grace family to reconcile their dysfunction and the separation of their family harmony? When placed under close scrutiny, are we all not reminded by fairytales that we can, that we must, remain hopeful for happy endings and success in facing insurmountable odds? Goblins and ogres are just examples of fairytale language for disappointment, fear, peril, and the stuff of life that threatens. It’s no wonder at all that viewers can jump into The Spiderwick Chronicles with a vested interest in the notion that Jared and his family, along with Arthur Spiderwick, must protect the book. We as viewers sense with some unexplainable instinct that our lives too are at stake.

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Picture and Sound:

Scenes such as the secret-tunnel chase, the goblin attack, and the Brownie acrobatics (just to name a few) make the Blu-ray visuals and sound quality a great reason for feeling satisfied about that new surround-system you may not have been sure was worth the buyer’s remorse. So let this one be a reminder that you can say goodbye to remorse and hello to happy home theatering. In a film like this where a significant portion of the viewers’ sense of verisimilitude depends upon the sensory input, the illusion of “being there” makes or breaks the experience. Here the Blu-ray spectacle carries its responsibility with command and whisks viewers into the pages of the field guide and into the adventure itself.

Interactivity:

The most impressive, yet unabashedly simple feature is the one that feeds our curiosity. The interactive control offers us as viewers screen access to Arthur Spiderwick’s amazing field guide. While the film itself does a decent job with the exposition of encounters and creatures, the Blu-ray edition actually grants viewers the power to know the esoteric and mysterious. Like Jared and his siblings, we can feel the intensity of having to protect the book from enemies because we know first hand what secrets it contains. And as much fun as it is to get the skinny on toadstool circles, the best use of salt, and other evasive charms, don’t forget for a moment that even some of the interactive features assume a role of reporting “real” phenomena. And it’s all done in HD to bring the viewer within a breath’s distance of the Spiderwick magic.

Recommendation:

Spiderwick stands as a fairytale of the finest sort. Consequently, my recommendation begins at the proverbial fairytale lover’s junction between this place and the other – where human folk and fairy folk alike can agree that some stories can’t help but bind us inextricably and inexplicably to a world beyond our own. Spiderwick’s adhesive quality, its narrative fidelity, and its interactive joyability act as a mesmerizing incantation of fairytale success. Basically, don’t sleep on this one…go get it. Wake up to own a piece of Arthur Spiderwick’s research into the land of our dreams.

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