Garden of unearthly delights
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