'The Spiderwick Chronicles [Blu-ray]'
(Sarah Bolger, Freddie Highmore, et al / DVD / PG / 2008 / Paramount)
Overview: From the beloved best-selling series of books comes an extraordinary fantasy adventure revealing the unseen world that exists all around us. From the moment the Grace family moves into a secluded old house peculiar things start to happen. Unable to explain the accidents and strange disappearances the Grace children Jared Simon and Mallory start to investigate and find the unbelievable truth of the Spiderwick Estate and the amazing creatures that inhabit it.
DVD Verdict: If you didn't already know, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is a fantasy film with a slightly dark side. Though the film's premise is pretty familiar, its tone sometimes becomes a little different from other recent fantasy films like "Stardust" or "The Golden Compass." Some creatures such as fairies and goblins may look too grotesque or creepy, even scary for some kids - though adults may find something humorous in their behaviors.
"The Spiderwick Chronicles," based on a series of children's novels by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, begins with the Grace family - spirited Mallory (Sarah Bolger, "In America"), twins Jared and Simon (both by Freddie Highmore, "August Rush") and their mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker) - moving into old "Spiderwick" estate. Those kids are not very happy living in this dilapidated house surrounded by thick woods. And this spooky house may be haunted. At least that's how Jared (Freddie Highmore) thinks when he notices something is crawling behind the wall.
Jared, most adventurous (and most careless) one of the three children, discovers an old laboratory. There he finds an old book that has a note warning not to open it. Of course, he ignores it. He realizes his mistake too late when he knows the house is beleaguered by some invisible critters led by terrifying Mulgarath (cameo by Nick Nolte).
Though the film's story may sound like zombie film, it is, as some reviewers point out, actually closer to "Home Alone" where clever children outwit "bad" goblins. The battles are, as IMDb's parents guide says, "suspenseful but not too violent," but still some of the creatures (including "good" ones) may look too creepy for some. Remember the animation supervisor / characters designer is Phil Tippett, whose great visual effects works include those of "Starship Troopers" and "Willow."
Entertaining and fun as it is, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is not perfect. The double role by Freddie Highmore does not work as it should because Simon is much weaker as character than Jared. The sub-plot about kids' parents can be much shorter. Some part of the film's actions is a bit conventional and the ending is ... well, certainly unique, but you may dislike it.
Still director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls" "Just Like Heaven") keeps a good pace throughout, never wasting time before starting actions, and these actions are always fun to watch. Perhaps the readers of the original books have something to say about the way they were adapted, but overall I enjoyed watching "The Spiderwick Chronicles."
Indeed, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is presented in 1080p anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Special features are presented in high-definition, save for one section. We begin with a 7-minute “It’s All True” in which director Mark Waters tells us that the film is a, well, ... true story! An 8-minute “It’s a Spiderwick World” continues down much the same path with the authors of the books, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, touring the set and saying that it looks like the real house.
Next are the pages from Arthur’s field guide about some of the magical creatures. There’s also a Blu-ray enhanced version of the guide that pops up creature trivia during the film and also links back to the pages at various intervals. The 14-minute “Spiderwick! Meet the Clan!” explores the cast of the film.
The 20-minute “Making Spiderwick” explains more of the design of bringing the books to the screen. Whereas the 14-minute “The Magic of Spiderwick” goes into the visual effects in the film. The 2 minute “Final Word of Advice” has Waters return to warn us to watch out for the creatures! There are also 8 minutes of deleted scenes (presented in movie quality), 5 minutes of Nickelodeon TV spots (in standard definition), and 2 trailers (4 minutes in total).