"The Spiderwick Chronicles" Blu-ray Review
June 16, 2008 by Zach Demeter
I doubt there is anyone as tired of the fantastical creature adventure film that weíve been deluged with since Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter exploded onto the scene. While weíre given big budget features like Golden Compass or Narnia, neither really struck a chord with me and I feared that The Spiderwick Chronicles would follow suit. Thankfully I was proven wrong by The Spiderwick Chronicles, as it not only distanced itself from other creature-features of the similar genre, but also did something original with the material, separating it from the pack.
Once the Grace family moves into a house that was willed to them, strange things begin to happen around them. At first the family blames it on Jared (Freddie Highmore), who has caused similar grief and trouble for the family in the past and has even had issues with anger management. Despite defending himself against doing any of this, however, he cannot convince the family otherwise and it isnít until Jared discovers a secret room that house a book called The Spiderwick Chronicles does he realize that the events going on around the house are actually being caused by the unseen creatures that surround him. Soon, Jared and his sister, Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and his twin brother Simon (Highmore), are fighting for their lives to protect themselves against the dangerous beings that surround their home.
What I found so refreshing about The Spiderwick Chronicles was that it didnít dumb the material down for the younger audience. While the film is obviously for kids, the characters in the film act exactly as a real kid would in this scenario; itís similar in fashion to Jumanji, in that everything that happens to the characters in extraordinary circumstances becomes believable simply based on the reactions they give. The moment Highmore uttered ďWhat the hellÖĒ when first discovering the hidden room and the scary things inside of it, I knew that the film wasnít going to dance or sugarcoat areas of the film; instead it would present it as if it were entirely real.
Despite the sometimes overly cartoony CGI, the film really did excel at making one believe that this world could actually be real; obviously the fantastical elements of creatures existing around us that we canít see is farfetched, itís presented to matter-of-factly in the film that it immediately engrosses the viewer. Again, the film is clearly focused more towards kids, but like the cartoons made by Disney from their early years up until the nineties, the film can be enjoyed by all audiences without hesitation.
Of course itís not all perfect in the film; the scenes where Highmore has to play the twins come off as stiff and awkward, especially for the pieces where you can tell where the frames were spliced because of the divide between the characters. I realize doing it any other way would have been much more costly than the way they did do it, but it still remains that the twin sequences are overly gauche in nature.
Another element that surprised me in the film was its humor. I didnít know what to expect from a Nickelodeon movie (itíd been a long time since Iíd seen one of those), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film had a healthy amount of humor thrown in amongst the drama and action. The Hobgoblin named Hogsqueal (voiced by Seth Rogen) stole every scene he was in, especially the scene with the bird houses. On top of Rogen, we had Martin Short in the role of Thimbletack who also provided a strong showing. I actually didnít realize either of them voiced the characters; the voices sounded familiar, but I couldnít place them. I was surprised to see they were in the film, however; their performances werenít front and center in the way most celebrity voice over casting is, so that was a nice surprise.
Visually the film was quite impressive. While the griffin ride seemed like something lifted straight from Harry Potter, it was quite a well done sequence, with all of the transitions through various scenery, including winter, fall and summer type areas. The introduction of the Sylphs was also quite astonishing, as the individual creatures making up a fluttering cloud and dispersing and falling away from the Griffin as it took off was very well animated. Aside from some of the aforementioned cartoony goblins and the like, the CGI in the film really only became irksome during the introduction of the Griffin, where Simon was shown petting his head in quite an odd range of motions.
Overall The Spiderwick Chronicles is as surprising of a film as it is good. The more adult-focused nature of the kidsí stories with a father abandoning not only his wife but his children for another woman is a lot more of a modern story than I was expecting from this film and one that wasnít sugarcoated or glossed over. It was explored as far as it should have been and while it was largely one-sided because we didnít hear from the father directly, it still surprised me by just how ďadultĒ this kidsí film became. I think that distinction is key; this isnít simply a childrenís film, but is, instead, a kidís film with elements that a really young audience may not understand. Regardless of which way you cut it, The Spiderwick Chronicles is entertaining fun and comes Recommended.
The Spiderwick Chronicles arrives on single disc Blu-ray and DVD as well as a two-disc DVD edition. This review will be tackling the Blu-ray release, which, if Iím not mistaken, is the first Paramount film to release on Blu-ray and DVD simultaneously. The disc, like Paramountís other Blu-ray efforts thus far, is impressive in both presentation and the myriad of extras to poke through. The disc itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case and an insert informing of the firmware upgrade process for Blu-ray players. Disc art is the usual grey wash that Paramount releases see and the menus are easily navigated and access through the pop-up interface.
The visual presentation of the film is remarkable; I was quite surprised by the clarity of some sequences, although quite a bit of the filmís more adventurous sequences take place in darkened areas where detail is difficult to see. Still, the black levels are rich and inky and the presentation definitely is a step above its DVD brother which I also had the chance to check out. You canít really go wrong with either release in terms of visuals, but if you have the capabilities, the Blu-ray release is definitely a step up in terms of quality and clarity, as it should be.
Audio comes in the form of an English 5.1 TrueHD track which is powerful in both subwoofer and surround usage. The final sequence with Mulgarath pounding through the house forced the woofer to thump the room with every step and the surrounds for the entire film seemed active on more than a few occasions. Overall a very impressive track and one that really envelopes the viewer in The Spiderwick Chroniclesís world. Alternative French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
For the extras we get a heavy dosage of goodies to pick through. The first is an ďIn-Movie GuideĒ, which is basically just pop-up trivia and facts about the film, although the Blu-ray version is much fancier over its DVD brethren, incorporating slide-in effects and other visual elements that the Blu-ray format is capable of delivering. Itís a nice track to turn on, but as with all trivia tracks it gets intrusive at times, but thatís the price you pay. The lack of commentary on the film is forgivable when you have this track on and check out the other extras, as we get a pretty clear picture of the production of the film from these elements alone. All content is presented in 1080i aside from deleted scenes and theatrical trailers which arrive in 1080p and the Nickelodeon TV Spots which come in 480p.
First up is "Spiderwick: It's All True!" (7:04), which has director Mark Waters describing to the viewer that everything we see in the film is, in fact, completely real. He also goes on to basically summarize the world in the film, so if youíre hazy on anything about the various creatures or actions that take place in the film, this is a good refresher and crash course if you missed anything. "It's a Spiderwick World" (8:44) focuses on the original book that the film is based off of, while "Spiderwick: Meet the Clan" (13:54) interviews the cast of the film about their various roles.
"Making Spiderwick" (20:53) is where we see how the various elements of the film came about, while "The Magic of Spiderwick" (14:23) shows off the CGI process for some of the more complex (Sylphs!) aspects of the film. "A Final Word of Advice..." (1:51) finds director Waters again informing the viewer that everything we saw in the film was real (for a film that doesnít talk down to its audience, the director must think we all still believe in the Easter Bunny). After this is "Deleted Scenes" (8:14), four in all which appear to be completely finalized and in full 1080p glory; a selection of "Nickelodeon TV Spots" (5:04), nine in all, and two theatrical trailers, "Good vs. Evil" (2:04) and "Secret" (2:32), finish up the set.
Overall The Spiderwick Chronicles is a worthy film that has a wonderful Blu-ray presentation. If youíre interested in the film at all, I urge you to check it out; itís really a pleasant surprise all around and one that is definitely worth your time. Recommended.
The Spiderwick Chronicles arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on June 24th.