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DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: The Spiderwick Chronicles: 2-Disc Field Guide Edition (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 2006
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough

The Spiderwick Chronicles: 2-Disc Field Guide Edition
Directed by Mark Waters

Studio: Paramount
Year: 2008
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 101 minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 36.99

Release Date: June 24, 2008
Review Date: June 7, 2008

The Film


An entertaining family adventure fantasy, Mark Waters’ The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn’t have the epic feel of such fantasies as The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, or even The Golden Compass, but in its own way, its rather minimalist approach to its fantastical world is rather refreshing and definitely less exhausting than some more elaborate cinematic reveries.

The Chase family is in the middle of a nasty break-up, and mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker) has brought her three children (Freddie Highmore playing twins Jared and Simon and Sarah Bolger as Mallory) to live in her aunt’s very old-fashioned Victorian clapboard house. They’re far from New York, and the outspoken Jared is especially bitter over leaving his dad (Andrew McCarthy) behind. Once there, however, Jared stumbles onto some unusual discoveries. The house has a mischievous brownie Thimbletack (Martin Short) who steals personal belongings, and after finding this out, Jared makes an even bigger find: an elaborate book entitled Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide which spells out in amazing detail a dazzling array of mystical creatures (sprites, goblins, brownies, ogres, faeries, and trolls among others) living among them. He learns, however, that the evil critters are mounting an attack to attempt to steal the Field Guide so they can gain power over the entire area. It’s up to him and his siblings (if he can convince them he’s not crazy) to save their world from this creature invasion.

The mythology set up for the magical inhabitants of this realm as scripted by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, and John Sayles, based on the books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, borrows liberally from not only Greek mythology with its griffins but also the fairy tales of the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen. Yet, this poaching has no effect on the freshness of the concept due mainly to the inventive transformations the creators have conceived for the evil ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), Thimbletack’s hilarious physiology of morphing into a nasty-spirited boggart when he gets pushed to anger, and another comic creation of the easily distracted hobgoblin Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen) who offers help between courses of low flying birds.

The story remains straightforward, wisely maintaining its simplicity rather than going into the convolutions that give the Potter tales great richness but sometimes require repeated viewings if one isn’t familiar with the books from which the movies have been adapted. Led by the brash but surprisingly sensitive Jarad, an audience will be more than willing to follow these adventurers wherever they lead. Director Waters keeps things moving at a steady clip so that the movie’s credits come up almost before one is ready for them. The CGI work on display is imaginative and fun, but sometimes it doesn't quite blend into the gorgeous but familiar New England settings of the story. Unlike Middle Earth or Hogwarts, New England in the fall seems too realistic sometimes to support comfortably the number of creatures roaming around freely.

Freddie Highmore hides his British accent to perfection playing these two very different twins (Simon being the obediently quiet sibling), and Sarah Bolger is no less successful hiding her Irish accent as well as the feisty Mallory. David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick and Joan Plowright as his grown-up daughter Lucinda make brief but effective appearances while Nick Nolte, Seth Rogan, and particularly Martin Short make grand sport with just their voices for their mercurial CGI characters (Nolte does have one scene where he can actually act his changeling role as a man). Mary-Louise Parker acts the frazzled mom as only she can.

Video Quality


The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a nicely done anamorphic transfer. Though I’ve seen sharper standard definition images, flesh tones are beautifully delivered, and color texture and saturation are just fine, the hues being especially strong when the children visit Arthur Spiderwick where the sprites have him sequestered. Black levels are rich, and shadow detail is well done. The film is divided into 12 chapters.

Audio Quality


The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix delivers James Horner’s moving and often boisterous score to the fronts and rears with great attention to sound levels so that dialog in the center channel is never obliterated. There are certainly effective ambient sounds used in the available channels throughout the film though I couldn’t help noticing other opportunities for effective pans around the soundstage weren’t utilized as much as they could have. There is, however, nice use of the subwoofer in this effective, involving audio mix.

Special Features


Each of the discs in this 2-disc set contains bonus material.

Disc one begins with a tongue-in-cheek greeting from director Mark Waters in “Spiderwick: It’s All True!” In this 7-minute anamorphic featurette, the director describes the mythological beings present in the movie as being actually alive in our world, and invites the viewer to enter into the bonus features with this frame of mind.

“It’s a Spiderwick World!” introduces us to the original writers/illustrators of the book series as well as the film’s director and producer, all of whom describe the genesis of the ideas for the story and their approach to filming the material. This anamorphic featurette runs 8 ¾ minutes.

“Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide” is an interactive series of pages from the central prop of the film allowing the viewer to read individual pages in the book in any order and to jump into the film to see the creatures it describes at the point where they’re first introduced.

Field Guide in Movie Mode” turns on a red book icon which will pop up occasionally as you watch the film and allow the viewer to branch off from within the movie to read these individual pages about the creatures from the Field Guide .

Disc two begins with “Spiderwick: Meet the Clan,” a 14-minute introduction to the actors who play the central roles in the movie. Not only do we see the live actors working on the set, but we see the voice actors recording some of their dialog for the CGI creatures. This feature is also in anamorphic widescreen.

“Making Spiderwick” takes 20 ¾ minutes to introduce us in anamorphic widescreen to the film’s production designer, cinematographer, props master, special effects coordinator, and composer and let us see each of them at work giving the film its very special look and feel.

“The Magic of Spiderwick” goes into more detail with the two special effects houses which handled the CGI work for the movie: the Tippett Studio which did the goblins and brownies and Industrial Light & Magic which handled Mulgarath and the sprites and faeries. Always interesting but never long enough, this anamorphic featurette runs 14 ¼ minutes.

“A Final Word of Advice” finds the director saying goodbye to the viewer and assuring us that all the creatures are in fact real. It also allows bonus featurette producer Laurent Bouzereau and his crew to receive credit for their work on the bonus material.

The DVD offers 4 deleted scenes which can be watched separately or in one 8 ¼-minute chunk. All are in anamorphic widescreen.

9 television promotional spots which originally ran on Nickelodeon are gathered together in this section. They’re in 4:3 and run 5 minutes total when watched in one bunch. They can also be viewed separately.

2 theatrical trailers (both anamorphic) are offered on the disc. The first in 16:9 runs 2 minutes while the second in 2:35:1 runs 2 ½ minutes.

In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun family fantasy thriller. It might not quite reach the majestic heights of Narnia or the Harry Potter adventures, but on its own it’s an entertaining evening’s worth of fanciful fiction.

Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

Bill Thomann

Supporting Actor
Nov 2, 2003
Thanks for the review. I think I'll be buying the 2 discer (blind). Sounds pretty good to me,

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