Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles - Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi

These five little books are a quick and fun read and definitely kept my interest till the end. Although I would say that they are targeted for a young audience and adults might find them too simple or unoriginal. I personally enjoyed the illustrations the most. I knew Tony Diterlizzi’s work even before he became famous with the Spiderwick Chronicles. I remember admiring his fairies and fantasy works while I was still playing D&D. I’m happy he got what he deserved in the end. Have a look at some of his “non Spiderwick” works on his Myspace,in the slide show(), it’s worth is. My favourite is the black fairy/angel holding a bird on her hand. I must have it printed out somewhere.

So knowing how important illustrations are in the Spiderwick books, I was eager to read them, especially before the film came out.

The story is simple enough: Three siblings, the twins Jared and Simon, and the teenager Mallory, are forced to move out to the countryside with their mother after their parents break up. They go and live in this very old, very dusty and very creepy house kindly given to them by their great-aunt Lucinda, and from then on their adventures begin. Since their parents' break up, the children have gone through a hard time, especially Jared, who gives vent to his frustration through violence and anger. So it’s only natural that, when strange things happen in the house, Jared’s mother holds him responsible for everything. But he isn’t, and it’s up to him to prove it. What’s rustling inside the walls? And why is it angry? and what does that riddle left for him in the secret room mean? At first Jared is alone in his research but soon enough his animal-loving brother and his fencing expert sister understand that he’s not making things up: fairies are real! And they’re up to get them. The want the Field guide, the book that their great-great uncle wrote to recognise and understand fairies. Mallory wants to destroy it, but Jared things it’s the only key they have to survive.

I enjoyed the first three books the most. Jared’s first encounter with the house brownie Thimbletack and his initial struggle to come to terms with the fairy realm is exciting and promising. I really liked the part when Jared saves his brother from the goblins, and is forced by Simon to save the injured Griffin as well, which will be hidden in the garage and become their magical pet. The encounter with the elves was fascinating and beautifully illustrated. But as the plot thickens and the danger gets bigger, I failed to understand exactly why the book was so important to Mulgarath, the shape-changing Troll. It’s something left vary vague and never really justified. It feels more like an excuse than a real reason. I felt a bit let down by the story in the end, even though I enjoyed it. I also thought the ending was a bit too easy, but I can’t explain why without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it yet.

The film was a completely different matter. The only way I can explain what they did is this: the screenwriters took some elements of the books, kept the beginning and the ending, then mixed and shook the elements in the middle and then rearranged them, adding some scene, taking away some others, and basically writing a new plot!
Not just that. I believe they changed the feel of the books, as well. The film is much scarier, the kids are angrier, and less supportive of each other especially at the beginning. There’s a lot of shouting going on, and although you can’t hear the shouts reading a book, I don’t remember them screaming so much. It’s generally darker, and faster, even though I thought the books were quick-paced enough. I was sad to see that the elves, the dwarfs, the dragons (and a lot more) were left out. I didn’t like the fact that they invented a new way of fighting goblins (tomato sauce?) because the books sticks very much to the traditional fairy lore and I appreciated it for that. I loved that they had a pet griffin, while here it appears only for a short while, a kind of Falcor without the power of speech. I know I sound very critical but I enjoyed the movie to some extent. Unfortunately I was probably too busy comparing the books and the film that I didn’t judge it per se. I have to say, I love Diterlizzi’s illustrations too much to appreciate the CGI brownies, hobgoblins and sprites. They used different design and it didn’t feel like relating to the same characters. It was a good movie, but it wasn’t The Spiderwick Chronicles.


Melody said...

I haven't read the book or watched the movie yet, but I do hear a lot of great things about this.

Like you, I tend to compare the books with the movies' versions and some times they just don't follow the books and/or add some new scenes and that sucks.

Nymeth said...

I tend to compare books and movies a lot too. Lately I realized that I'm better off letting a good amount of time go by after reading a book before I watch the movie version.

The books sounds like a very fun read!

Carl V. said...

I was sad to read all the negative reviews of the film. It certainly kept me from spending money to go see it. I will eventually check it out on DVD...I think...but I won't be in any hurry. I enjoyed the books and DiTerlizzi's illustrations are magnificient. He is an amazing talent.

valentina said...

melody, I don't mind when a director decides to do some changes for the sake of the film, cause it's a different medium and I understand it can't be the same. But I wished they tried to keep to the spirit of the book at least!

nymeth, yes the books are fun, maybe a bit childish, but fun!
It's a good idea to let sometime pass between movie and book, I should keep that in mind.

carl,it wasn't a bad film, it's a good blockbuster fantasy for hyperactive kids, but not much to do with the books:P
yeah, Diterlizzi is great!