The Spiderwick Chronicles is a series of five books released over the past five years and recently adapted into a film. The making of the film required overcoming the daunting challenge of compressing the events that have kept young readers enthralled from volume to volume into a ninety minute feature with a single story arc.
There are typically two views of how things work in bringing a book to the big screen, and putting them together gives the best view of the overall effort. Since this film brings an entire series to a single film, that dual perspective is even more striking.
For those who have not read the books, the film starts with a mysterious and foreboding introduction and then tells the tale of two twins brothers and a sister whose mother has moved the family (sans father) from New York City to an unnamed suburban area of New England. The brothers look alike but are very different in just about every way. Simon loves animals of all types and hates conflict; Jared seems to constantly find trouble because of his curiosity; their sister is a fencing student who acts as a second parent figure as their mother tries to get their family established in the strange new setting. Jared stumbles upon a hidden world of faeries that has been documented by his great-great-uncle and reawakens an evil creature who seeks knowledge to destroy all those who oppose him. The rest of the story revolves around the Grace children trying to save the faerie world and stop the evil creature and restore some sort of normalcy to their lives.
For those who have read the books – which will include a large portion of kids in the 9 – 12 year old group – the movie is as much about what is missing as what is included. For example, the entirety of the fourth book is ignored in the movie, as are several species of faeries, and many of the characters central to the books are barely touched upon in the movie. However, in that age group the contrast is more a point of discussion than one of criticism.
The film is Rated PG for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements. When the hidden world is first introduced, the creatures are attacking while invisible – it is very scary for younger children and quite tense for elementary school kids. There are several scenes where the Grace children are in grave danger, which causes concern even for those who have read the books and know how it all turns out.
My personal take: My wife and I really thought this was pretty good – fun character, a good mix of action and storytelling, and not too scary for the 3rd – 5th grade crew we had along for the birthday party. Imagine our surprise as we listened to the 6 kids in the back of our van shredding the movie on the way home. My younger son had his personal ‘Field Guide’ and they were all passing it around picking out what was wrong in the movie. There was great outrage at the exclusion of Book #4, as it was many of the kids’ favorite. Yet they all liked the movie overall … I just imagine this is what we look like to them whenever we react poorly to a film version of a book.