The Spiderwick Chronicles

Charm, family focus from books lost

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"If you take one fateful look, you barter at your life's expense or face a deadly consequence." Read at your own risk, for you may find yourself waiting in line to see "The Spiderwick Chronicles," a movie based on the set of five books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

The danger begins with a classic irritable-kid-who-doesn't-want-to-move. Jared Grace would rather stay in New York with his father, and he is doing what is necessary to make his mom, sister, Mallory, and twin brother, Simon, miserable. After one look at their new house, you understand why. The old Spiderwick Estate is full of ancient d├ęcor, unusual food staples and strange noises. The story behind these noises lies in "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide," an encyclopedia of fantastic creatures. After Jared reads the book, he is launched into a magical power struggle for control of the field guide, and consequently of the world.

If I did not know that Freddie Highmore had no twin, I would never have guessed that the twin brothers, Jared and Simon, were played by the same person. They? Him? He? does a wonderful job of acting in the emotional turmoil of the Grace family. Mary-Louise Parker, as the mother, acts just as any mother would if she found her son starring in a dangerous children's fantasy series. The family's attempts to deal with the magical struggles and their own problems reveal well-drawn characters and good acting.

Between family issues and monstrous goblins, the young characters defend themselves bravely. They repel evil-looking monsters in a glorious shower of superb special effects. In fact, the monsters are so realistic that you may find your stomach tightening when blood splatters the floor, even if it is green.

When the conflicts of five stories are condensed into a single plot, a movie is produced with an awful lot of tension. Rather than enjoying the magical creatures, you watch them try and kill the main characters. A great deal of the charm is lost in the quest to create an action-packed storyline.

Although I enjoyed this film, I wonder who its target audience is. The subject matter appeals to the young, but the movie is really too scary for children. "The Spiderwick Chronicles" combines elements of a great movie, but loses some of the family focus in its haste to please everyone.

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