February 19, 2008 -- Hollywood's latest attempt to recapture the box office magic of Harry Potter is “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” a story about a boy who discovers a hidden book which illuminates an invisible world of magical creatures, most of whom are not friendly. Goblins, hobgoblins, fairies, sprites and all manner of magical creatures exist alongside us, unseen, according to this story, based on books written by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. These sorts of movies have been all over the map lately with some good, some bad and most indifferent. This is one is actually good. The story holds together well enough and the characters are well-defined and interesting.
Freddie Highmore of “August Rush” stars as the twin brothers, Jared Grace and Simon Grace. Jared, a troublemaker, has always been the more adventurous of the two. He finds the magical book, penned by his great-great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick. It is Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Ignoring the warning on the book's cover and another warning written by Thimbletack, a creature who lives in the Spiderwick house and knows its secrets, Jared opens the book and unleashes a new world of danger upon his family. The book's discovery comes to the attention of Mulgarath, a powerful goblin who would use the book's secrets to control the world. Jared, Simon, their sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger of “In America”), their mother, Helen, Thimbletack and a hobgoblin named Hogsqueal try to defend the house and the book against an assault from a large number of goblins.
The similarity to the Harry Potter movies is strongest when the children summon a griffin and ride it on a trip to a magical place. Those scenes are very similar to those involving a hippogriff ridden by Harry Potter and others in some of the Harry Potter films. In Spiderwick, however, the emphasis is less on spells and magical devices and more on the characters themselves and how they respond to the crisis at hand. This film is less about magical knowledge than it is about sheer bravery (or recklessness). In this film, children behave like children and they make foolish mistakes. They don't have any special powers and they don't have much knowledge about magic. They try to figure things out and do the best they can. They don't have a lot of help from mentors. They are pretty much on their own in this battle. The story is very condensed and straightforward. It gets right to the action and stays there. The special effects are effective in conveying images of a fantastic world existing parallel with our own. This film rates a B.
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