Directed by Mark Waters
Starring Mary Louise Parker, Seth Rogan
Growing up I loved the family fantasy flicks such as The Neverending Story and that was where my mind was when I popped this film into the old Blu-Ray player.
This film seemed a bit like a throwaway film or a “me too” film following Harry Potter when it came out. The truth is that it’s a good little family fantasy film; very much in the tradition of those films from the 80’s that I loved when I was growing up. Commonly in family fantasy the characters must leave the realm of reality to experience the magic of the story as in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While that’s not a bad thing at all, in fact the movie I mentioned earlier – The Neverending Story- did something similar, it’s nice to see a film that actually brings the magic into the real world.
All is not perfect though. The other thing most of these films do is put the kids, or at least the lead kid, in some sort of turmoil at the time of the discovery of the magic. Most commonly the turmoil is a divorce or a big move that pulls the kids away from all that’s familiar to them. This film hits both beats with the Grace family, a mother and her three children, are forced to move away from New York City into the old run down house of a long lost aunt after a divorce. In typical fashion one of the children, Jerad, stumbles around the house and discovers an old book titled Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. The book reveals the process to Jerad of how to see the mystical creatures that exist in the world around humans. Once discovering these creatures he also discovers the importance of the book and his family to these creatures and he and his siblings are pulled into an adventure right in their own home.
With the commonality of special effects on TV and film these days it’s a challenge of storytelling to truly create a magical experience and The Spiderwick Chronicles succeeds fantastically. The direction is solid and the set pieces also look phenomenal. The cast is also great featuring Seth Rogan, Martin Short, and Mary Louise Parker. What the movie doesn’t do is provide a unique story. Sure having the magic in the real word is great but the core of the story is a cracked family that gets repaired via the adventure. These themes have been overused to the hilt with the pinnacle being Steven Spielberg’s E.T. It’s no classic like E.T. but it’s a solid if predictable bit of fantasy family escapism.
This is another fantastic hi def presentation from Paramount. Flesh tones are excellent, detail is extremely high, and black levels are perfect. The overall color pallet is good but a little inconsistent with muted segments and vibrant ones coming and going for no apparent reason. Also, there are a few scenes that come off a bit soft compared to the rest of the film. Minor flaws aside, this is a great presentation.
The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it sounds great. Dialogue, score, and effects are clean and always easily discernable from each other. Action scenes do give the full surround environment a workout but disappointingly there’s not much in the way of subtle ambience. Quieter scenes stick close to the front speakers throughout the film. Dynamic range is as peppy as it should be with excellent sub woofer use during the action scenes. As is the situation with the audio, it’s really good but not as consistently great as other Paramount hi def releases.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc release comes in a standard slim Blu-Ray case with artwork that’s very reminiscent of the Harry Potter DVD’s. There are quite a few bonus features on this disc:
“It’s All True” is a really brief introduction to the film and the bonus features of the disc from the director of the film. He briefly discusses the world of Spiderwick and even offers a list of household items required to survive the bonus features of the disc. All of this is delivered in a sort of tongue in cheek reading of a storybook style. It’s not really that interesting and it’s extremely short. You’ll watch it once.
“Meet the Clan” is a 15 minute featurette covering the cast of the film. The featurette doesn’t delve to deep into the casting process. It instead focuses on the on set experiences of the cast, especially the children, during the making of the film. Seeing all of the cast offer their thoughts on the film prior to it being finished was fun but I’d loved to have been given more information on the casting process.
“Making Spiderwick” runs a little over 20 minutes and delivers some good information about the making of the film. The best parts of this featurette focused on the set pieces and art design. The house is really impressive.
“Magic of Spiderwick” runs around 15 minutes and covers the post production magic of filmmaking – specifically the special effects, both practical and CGI. The special effects of this film were quite well done and I’d have watched this featurette at twice its running time.
“Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide” is a text based bonus features that has viewers flipping pages in the book and clicking on items and creatures to learn more about them. Some of the items link to scenes from the film and others offer additional information in text form. I’m not a fan of these text heavy bonus features.
“Field Guide in Movie Mode” is basically the above bonus feature done in reverse. Instead of flipping through the guide and clicking on the items this track runs during the film offering pop up trivia and selectable icons pop up during the film which link back to the book. Again, not a fan of text heavy bonus features in this medium.
Other than the above items there are some deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, and TV spots. All of these extras are available in the standard def two disc edition of the film. The only thing that sets this release apart from the standard def one is that the film and the bonus features are all presented in high definition. What happened to offering expanded content for those that go the extra mile and drop the extra bucks for the hi def versions?
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun distraction for most of us but it could be something young fans of Harry Potter could be fanatical for. Definitely worth checking out.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Film 7.5/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10