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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

At the Movies: The Spiderwick Chronicles

Sometimes I like to go to the movie theatre and just say, "Give me one ticket to whatever is showing next."
I don't do this as often since Will Ferrell started making movies.
But, a couple of days ago, I decided to try it again (with a wary eye out for any posters featuring Mr. Ferrell's mug), and the "roulette wheel" stopped on The Spiderwick Chronicles.
All I knew about this movie going in was that it was based on a series of kids' fantasy books (no doubt hastily-written a few years back to cash in on the Harry Potter craze) that I have not read, and featured the young British wunderkind-actor-of-the-moment, Freddie Highmore, in a role that was decidedly un-British.
I sat down in the empty theatre with my medium (which evidently means "enormous") soda and my box of Milk Duds, and, as the lights went down, I was still the only person in the place and remained so through the entire film. It was 3:00 PM on a Monday, but it was the Denver Pavilions, too, so it seemed odd that no one was present for a movie that had been in theatres less than two weeks. I grew concerned:
Was Jessica Simpson in this movie?
She wasn't, but I was very pleased to see that David Strathairn, one of my favorite actors, appeared as Arthur Spiderwick, the author of the field guide to the hidden world of goblins and fairies from which the film (and book series) gets its title.
Freddie Highmore is impressive in the dual role of twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace. Modern film technology takes us seamlessly beyond the "split-screen" doublings of old, but young Highmore still manages to play the subtle differences between the brothers with such skill that I was never sure just how many actors I was watching. I had to do an IMDb search when I got home just to reassure myself that there wasn't also an "Eddie" Highmore identical twin. (There isn't.)
I was also very impressed with Irish-born Sarah Bolger as the boys' older sister Mallory, who, in delightful girl-power fashion, studies fencing and, during the goblin battles, is downright swashbuckling.
The creatures of the film are fun. The boys and girls over at ILM obviously had a blast bringing to life goblins, fairies, a griffin, a brownie (Martin Short), the evil ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), and whatever the heck Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen) is supposed to be.
Still, it is the two (three?) performances by the young heroes that really made the film for me.
Mary-Louise Parker may be a bit over-qualified to tackle the role of "Mom" in this film, but she definitely doesn't phone it in here, either.
Everything wrapped up just a little too neatly for me in the end, but this is a kids' movie after all.
Final verdict: It's a fun film, and no reviews that I've read since my solo viewing suggest that anyone else feels differently.
Something tells me that, a few years from now, clips from this film will show up in the "remember when?" reels of acclaimed grown-up actors Freddie Highmore and Sarah Bolger.

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