Brhiannon and I were *so* excited about this movie. We had read The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi twice and made a date back in December to see the movie the day it came out.
Well, we did, and after watching the Nickelodean production today, I still can’t wait to see The Spiderwick Chronicles on the big screen.
Now, I understand that stories need to be revised when brought to the big screen, but when you make a movie and claim it’s based on the book, there should be some good faith effort to honor that story. That was not done here.
Revised and Edited to Death
Scenes were cut out, changed and added for reasons I could not figure out. Book 1, The Field Guide, was consolidated, which is to be expected as it’s basically the introduction. Book 2, The Seeing Stone, had major significant changes in it. Book 3, Lucinda’s Secret, and Book 5, The Wrath of Mulgarath, were unrecognizable except the characters had the same names. The stories within those books were totally rewritten, bearing no resemblance to the original books at all. Book 4, The Ironwood Tree, was omitted entirely.
If they didn’t like the story, they should have written a new one…actually, they did, complete with a “happily ever after ending” for Aunt Lucy and Daddy and new setting and chain of events for the showdown with Mulgarath.
The movie contains only the slightest resemblance to the books, retaining only enough to allow Nickelodeon the ability to ride on the coattails of and exploit the series’ success.
It appears that Nickelodeon bought the movie marketing rights to this popular book series for the sole purpose of capitalizing on its popularity and appealing to the general population’s love of CGI special effects with no regard to the storyline, at all.
Effects Over Story
One of the things I loved about the books is that all the action takes place around their home and community. Magical places were right under their noses or by the roadside, with passing human traffic totally oblivious to their existence.
But I guess the CGI experts wanted to show off their neat little castle ruins instead of a rush hour roadside. And they apparently wanted to showcase their ability to create the illusion of breathtaking flight to a far far away place rather than the more “mundane” enchantment of a shifting path leading people astray and disoriented forever close to their own homes. That the movie is being heavily promoted in IMAX really underscores the overriding importance the special effects played in the manipulation of the original story.
And the effects were nice. In fact, Brhiannon really enjoyed that part of the movie, even though she didn’t appreciate the drastic changes to the story. Interestingly, she observed that the movie’s storyline, especially how the kids related to one another and their mother, felt very Nickelodeon to her, lacking in the richness of the books. The movie took multi dimensional characters and made them stereotypes.
Jared was angry. Simon was wimpy. Mallory was bossy. But in the book, Jared was filled with conflicting emotions, Mallory was profoundly protective and it was Simon’s compassion that led him to befriend a “monster” that later played a significant role in the defeat of Mulgarath…not his ingenuity in bagging canned tomatoes.
Special effects, notwithstanding, Brhiannon preferred the book. The story – not just the telling of it, although the writing is great too – but the storyline, itself is just that much better.
What Didn’t They Change?
Brhiannon and I like to read the book before seeing the movie and then discuss the changes in the movie. But so much of this story line was altered, and it was too easy listing one difference after another, that I thought it would be more challenging to name what part of the movie was actually in the books.
You know, there was actually a silence before Brhiannon pointed out, “Oh, the berries the little sprites offered Aunt Lucinda in the mental asylum”, who looked too healthy and robust, by the way, to look like a woman who refused to eat all food, except the little berries the sprites brought her.
In all fairness, there were other things than that that were included in the movie, but when I walked out of the theater, I left with the very real impression that the screenplay writers thought they could tell a better story than the original author. They cannot.
Usually I tell people not to watch a movie until they’ve read the book, so as to not spoil the reading, but The Nickelodeon Spiderwick Chronicles, is so different and diverges in so many places, I don’t think it will make any difference.
In fact, if you do see the movie first, by all means, read the books. Holly Black is a master storyteller and she wrote a great story. You shouldn’t miss it.