Wednesday, March 12, 2008


The Spiderwick Chronicles is like a depressing combination of Chronicles of Narnia without the intriguing story, Lord of the Rings without the awe-inspiring imagination, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the good Freddie Highmore performance. It is simple, lame-brained, uninteresting, level-one adventure filmmaking.

Shocking is the fact that the film was directed by Mark Waters, who previously made the brilliant Mean Girls and the serviceable-but-visually-pleasing Just Like Heaven. I have always thought of Waters as a director who knew his terrain and treaded it with confidence and panache. Now I think of him as a guy who got in way over his head.

Spiderwick is based on the (beloved?) children's book series about a magical world not unlike every other magical world we have seen before, or read about before, or both. I guess this time the charm is supposed to be in the lack of imagination in the storytelling, lack of energy in the actors, and lack of competence in the direction and special effects.

Freddie Highmore, once a breakout child star in Finding Neverland, has never been worse than he is here, playing two equally annoying American brothers, neither of whom seem fiery enough for audiences to get passionate about...and neither of whom speak with a very convincing American accent. It seems like Highmore has reached his jaded stage early--this reminds me of a paycheck performance if there ever was one.

Speaking of paychecks, consider this list: David Strathairn, Martin Short, Mary Louise-Parker, Seth Rogen, Andrew McCarthy, Joan Plowright...and Nick Nolte(!)

We are supposed to be progressing and evolving as a species. So, too, is our filmmaking sophistication. On the much stronger backs of movies like Narnia and LOTR, The Spiderwick Chronicles stands out like a sore, embarrassing thumb. It is de-evolution in action...our kids deserve better than that.


Utah Savage said...

J, my God you're tough. And that's just what I like so much about your reviews. I have no children, no grandchildren so am likely to have no reason to see a children's film. But I love your reviews, tough guy.

Utah Savage said...

K, I have no intention of seeing The Spiderwick Chronicles, especially after reading J's review, but the thing that most appeals to me about your review is the comment about Bad daddies or bad men at the end--so like real life for me as a child. There were no good men in my way too real young life. So I like the idea of a movie for children with a bad daddy--so much like life. Jaded? Yes, sadly. Do I believe in good daddies? As much as I believe in the tooth-fairy.

K McKiernan said...

Thing is... its just weird though. I like that they show a dad who leaves his family for a new woman, but the demon spirit takes the form of their dad and the child is forced to stab his own father.

A little over the top for a kiddie flick.

J McKiernan said...

Thanks, Savage Peg. Glad you like my reviews. Of course, it is usually a lot easier to review bad movies rather than just middling ones. Roger Ebert, the Dean of all film critics, once wrote, "Good and bad films dictate their own reviews; those in the middle are more of a challenge." In my experience, I have found that statement to be pretty universally true.

By the way, I agree with your statement about good daddies. Even though I shouldn't...I am trying every day to be one.

K McKiernan said...

Hey now, I want you to think me the better writer :)

Seriously, it was dumb to join a page about film with J. I have no patience to look up all the names and references that he just stockpiles in his brain.

So... I am the retort girl. Its easier that way, but not as glamorous.