Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'd Like Some More Please.

Listen to this role call of names. Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Seth Rogen, David Stratharin, Tippett Studios, Industrial Light and Magic, James Horner, Michael Kahn, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, John Sayles, and those are just the names you’d be familiar with at first glance. I haven’t even gotten to Mark Waters (Director of MEAN GIRLS and FREAKY FRIDAY), Karey Kirkpatrick (Writer of CHICKEN RUN and OVER THE HEDGE) and David Berenbaum (Writer of ELF). No, this is not the production credits for some huge summer blockbuster or one of the more recent Oscar bait films to hit your local multiplex, no instead these are just some of the people behind the brilliant and criminally under seen and under recognized THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.

Remember when family films used to be you know… good? Remember when you could look to places other than Pixar and HARRY POTTER to make quality family entertainment? When I was a kid we had movies like E.T., MONSTER SQUAD, GREMLINS, CLOAK AND DAGGER and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, great all ages fair that didn’t treat kids in the stories or in the audience like idiots. Movies that told imaginative, well made stories, where kids actually acted like kids and were put into honest to God, real life or death danger. These movies captured the imagination of an entire generation of you movie watchers and then just like that, they disappeared.

Personally, as with most things, I blame political correctness. Suddenly kids had to be either ludicrously vapid and clich├ęd or overtly adult, hip and too cool for school. You also couldn’t for a second allow kids to have a mind of their own or put them in situations where actual harm may come to them, because apparently that never happens in real life. Instead if you wanted any sort of family film with two brain cells to rub together it had to be animated and have a bouncing lamp as a mascot.

Imagine my surprise and delight then as I watched THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES to find that the artists involved decided to take the genre seriously again. Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy assembled people that wouldn’t tell a light and fluffy, let’s treat everyone like idiots tale, but people that who’s first and foremost mission was to simply tell a good story.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series of books the movie is based on (As I was) the story follows a fractured family who has been left with no choice but to move into a long abandoned house that’s been in their family for generations. On their first night there one of the kids discovers Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide a book that not only reveals the secrets of the fantastical, unseen world all around us, but also may very well bring about the end of the world if it falls into the wrong hands.

At a none too extravagant 100 minutes THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES takes off like a rocket and never really stops. The movie is filled with thrills, chills, fully realized characters, emotions and real world situations that give you a vested interest in everything that is happening. Best of all though the film is filled to the brim with fantastical magic, both literal and story telling wise that is all too rarely found in most family entertainment now-a-days.

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is my favorite kind of movie, an unsung gem that was unfairly ignored at the theatre, yet that I have no doubt will find generations of fans on home video. This movie flat out blew me away with how well done it was and how entertaining it managed to be. Ten minutes in I deeply regretted not trying harder to see this in the theatre and cursed the fact that more people don’t take this genre seriously. I mean I love the HARRY POTTER films but they shouldn’t be the only watchable, live action family films out there. Is it too much to ask that more film makers and studios give these type of films the quality and care they so richly deserve.

Mark my words, seek this film out and you will most definitely not be sorry. This is one of those films you’ll want to instantly add to your collection so that you and your offspring (Eventual or current) can enjoy it for years to come. I’m still trying to put together my Best Of list for 2008 and this movie didn’t do me any favors. I’m gonna have a real hard time not putting it somewhere on there, because it really is that good. Seriously Hollywood, take note and follow this movie’s lead, film fans of all ages will thank you for it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reccommend, like the fantasy film the family film has been another unfortunate casualty of contemporary cinema (excluding the rarities like some Pixar films).

Its why I miss Jim Henson so much since he's one of the few directors out there that to me never really had a failure of a film or made some abomination for a quick pay check. We lost him far too early.

Chris W said...

I agree. Jim Henson is one of my artistic idols. No joke he's been one of my heroes since I was a little kid. Every time I watch anything he did or created I marvel at the imagination and heart he put into every thing.

Anonymous said...

Oh for sure, I was always amazed at how his stuff worked at so many different levels and there was a lot of hidden subtext in some of his films that you really didn't pick up on until much later when you saw it as an adult.