“The Spiderwick Chronicles” may be too good to waste on kids. Sure, it’s full of goblins and monsters and griffins and sprites, but, hey, it’s a really good movie, eminently suitable for the more mature crowd.
With a preview full of children, I enjoyed this yarn as much as the five or six of them who together would add up to my age. More significantly, my co-reviewer, 8-year-old Saleen Ashley Lee, made small joyful noises, indicating appreciation probably exceeding mine. This was a surprise because, unlike me, Saleen has read all the Holly Black/Tony DiTerlizzi “Spiderwick” books, and the movie’s story is “completely different,” she said. And yet, she clearly and firmly approved of the screen version.
The trick is in the screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles, who instead of tinkering with the books, created a work of all one piece. This happened in spite of the fact that authors Black and DiTerlizzi are executive producers; apparently, they left the screenwriters well enough alone. There is no need to read up for the film (although you may want to read the series after seeing the movie). Everything is complete, with an involving beginning, long middle and quick end. Mark Waters, a director with TV experience, did a fine job.
David Strathairn is Arthur Spiderwick, a man who figured out the mysterious interchanges between the visible and invisible worlds, and put it all down in a book — and disappeared. Enter the Grace family — a harried mother (Mary-Louise Parker), a crazy aunt (Joan Plowright), a teenage daughter (Sarah Bolger), and twin boys Jared and Simon (Freddie Highmore), whose lives turn upside down as Good and Evil (mostly the latter) struggle for the possession of the book.
Think of “Spiderwick” as a “Ring” movie, but instead of a ring, it’s all about a book.
Sixteen-year-old Highmore, an astonishingly accomplished young actor with 18 movies and TV programs to his credit, plays both twins, and he pretty much carries the film by himself.
Apparently, the books and the script share their passion for words: The question “What is this?” was posed and I searched my brain, but Saleen responded instantly: “a dumbwaiter!” It’s certain that she has never seen one; the emphasis on language carried through.
But beware: For children under 5, the stressful situations and animated violence could be too much. If you are that young, you are unlikely to have my mature ability to close my eyes when the movie got a tad too exciting.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Starring Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen
Written by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles, based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Directed by Mark Waters
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes