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DVD Review: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Blu-ray)
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The Spiderwick ChroniclesThe Spiderwick Chronicles
Directed by Mark Waters
Starring Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Seth Rogen (voice), Martin Short (voice)
Paramount Home Video
Release Date: June 24, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fine, family film in the tradition of Harry Potter and The Golden Compass, and like those other franchises, it is based on a beloved series of children’s books. Although I would strongly argue that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (from which The Golden Compass comes) goes far beyond simple “good vs. evil” children’s fare; that is an argument best suited for another time and place”¦

The basic plotline of The Spiderwick Chronicles goes like this: upon moving into the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate with their mother, Helen (the MILF-tastic Mary-Louise Parker), the Grace children — twin brothers Jared and Simon (both played with aplomb by Freddie Highmore) and their sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger) — find themselves pulled into an alternate world full of fantastical creatures.

Unable to explain the mysterious occurrences that seem to be happening on a daily basis, the family finds a scapegoat in the unruly Jared. When he, Simon, and Mallory stumble upon Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide and begin to look into what’s really going on, they uncover the incredible truth of the Spiderwick Estate and of the creatures that populate it.

In and of itself, the movie is well done, but nothing spectacular, and is carried by the charisma of its two young stars (Highmore and Bolger). There is a “broken family” sub-plot that just weighs the film down and feels tacked on. In my opinion, those scenes could’ve easily been edited out and this would’ve streamlined the fantasy elements of the film, which are, undoubtedly, its best parts.

The DVD I reviewed was of the Blu-ray variety and does offer a superior quality of picture and sound. The digital creature effects seem to jump off the HDTV screen, and the colors, especially in the faerie realm, are truly vibrant and crisp on my monitor set at 1080p. The 5.1 Dolby True HD sound mix is alternately thunderous and airy in the appropriate places, but does seem a bit too center-channel concentrated for my liking. If I’m in an expansive fantasy realm, I want to feel it. Unfortunately, this disc didn’t quite get me to that level of aural immersion.

The special features found on this disc consist mostly of making of and back-slapping featurettes, which are nicely presented in HD. The best special feature found here is the interactive, enhanced Blu-ray version of the Spiderwick Field Guide that you can access at various points throughout the film when certain creatures pop up or events unfold. This is cool and all but can be distracting on your initial viewing of the film, so you may want to turn this feature on only during subsequent viewings of the movie.

At the end of the day, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a solid, if unspectacular, entry into your DVD/Blu-ray collection, especially if you have younger children at home. If you don’t have kids, I would suggest a rental over an outright purchase, as it isn’t one of those “showcase” DVDs that will dazzle your friends and neighbors.

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