Gar­den of un­earthly de­lights

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

THE SPI­DER­WICK CHRON­I­CLES Di­rected by Mark Wa­ters. Star­ring Fred­die High­more, Sarah Bol­ger, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, David Strathairn, Andrew McCarthy, voices of Seth Ro­gen, Martin Short PG cert, gen re­lease, 107 min SORRY? What was that? Who’s he? Why has ev­ery­thing gone dark? Who let Nick Nolte in the build­ing?

We’ve all had enough of plod­ding, day-long fan­tasy adap­ta­tions, but this re­ally is ridicu­lous. Mark Wa­ters’s am­bi­tious film of a se­ries of chil­dren’s nov­els by Tony DiTer­l­izzi and Holly Black barely al­lows the au­di­ence to take a breath be­fore ram­ming a host of spi­ders, gob­lins, fairies and Noltes down its un­sus­pect­ing throat. One gets the sense that some­where inside this com­pact pack­age there is a more com­plex, more nu­anced film burst­ing to get out. To bor­row a joke from Monty Python, it’s a lit­tle like watch­ing The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles told by semaphore or with Aldis Lamps.

The open­ing five sec­onds (or so) de­tail the ar­rival of a sin­gle mother and her young fam­ily to a spooky house some dis­tance from civil­i­sa­tion. By the time you’ve re­moved the pa­per from your straw and in­serted it in your mega-cola, Fred­die High­more and Fred­die High­more – a di­lute so­lu­tion of the ac­tor plays squab­bling twins – have found a magic book and pre­cip­i­tated an as­sault by lit­tle green things with horns. Our own Sarah Bol­ger, handy with swords and hand­ier with a brazen quip, gamely joins bat­tle against the crea­tures.

There is noth­ing much wrong with the ef­fects, the di­a­logue or the per­for­mances. The fairies that emerge from flower petals are quite beau­ti­fully ren­dered, and the spir­ited Bol­ger demon­strates that she has the po­ten­tial to thrive as an adult per­former.

You con­stantly feel, how­ever, that some vi­tal piece of in­for­ma­tion or mo­ti­va­tion has been left on the cut­ting-room floor. A throw­away line by the chil­dren’s mother – “Re­mem­ber, we don’t hit when we’re an­gry” – sug­gests that one of the High­mores has been un­der the treat­ment of a psy­chol­o­gist. Did I men­tion that Nick Nolte turns up in a growl­ing, ir­rel­e­vant fury? Some foot­notes might be use­ful.

Still, this well-made, at­trac­tive film passes the time well enough. If you do start to get bored you can have fun guess­ing who will play the old lady who grew up in the house (her later ap­pear­ance is tele­graphed from early on). “Don’t be Red­grave! Don’t be Red­grave!” I kept say­ing to my­self. It’s not Red­grave.

A Spi­der­wick fairy

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