Show review: “The Spiderwick Chronicles” chronicles nothing viewers haven’t seen before

by Gavin Meichelbock

This review includes spoilers for episode one of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and does not cover the entire series.

Releasing on April 19, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” is the newest series from Roku Originals and adapts Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s book series of the same name. The series is created by Aron Eli Coleite who also adapted the Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez series “Locke & Key” for Netflix — a show about three siblings and their mother who move into their ancestral home after the death of the children’s father and discover the house is full of magic. The series premiere is directed by Kat Coiro, who is most well known for having directed six of the nine episodes of Marvel’s “She-Hulk” — two of which were not awful.

In the first episode of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” three siblings, Jared (Lyon Daniels), Simon (Noah Cottrell) and Mallory Grace (Mychala Lee), as well as their mother Helen Grace (Joy Bryant), move into their ancestral home after their parent’s divorce. Upon arriving at the Spiderwick Estate, the family begins to notice strange occurrences around town and start to suspect their new home is filled with magic. All the while, the evil ogre, Mulgarath (Christian Slater), has come to the human world with a treacherous plan to devour all of mankind.

If the lengthy preamble did not give it away already, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” is yet another journey into 2000s fantasy nostalgia audiences have seen countless times before. Since the good parts of the episode are so generic, they have trouble standing out amongst its bad and mixed aspects.

One of the show’s redeeming qualities is the creature design. The special effects for the main antagonist are executed smartly and he looks properly menacing. Mulgarath is a tree monster that looks like an evil version of Treebeard from the “The Lord of the Rings” series. Although he is in his human form for most of the first episode, when he is in his creature form, it is always shown in the shadows or covered up by fog, leaving viewers to only catch the outline of his dangerous appearance. This is a clever way to handle the character because not only does it make him scarier to the viewer by forcing them to fill in the details with their imagination, but it is also the best way to hide subpar visual effects.

As for the few other magical creatures that make an appearance, they look fine. There is a fairy with an interesting seedling design, making it feel as if they could exist in nature as opposed to a more fantastical Tinker-Bell-esque one. There is also a cheeky little creature named Thimbletack (Jack Dylan Grazer) who is very reminiscent of Dobby the House Elf from the “Harry Potter” series. Keep in mind that these similarities between the creature designs are not a negative of the show; it is merely an observation to give audiences an idea of the fantastical world they are about to embark into.

A mixed feature of the episode is the editing. While the cutting of scenes together is fine, there are a few times when a scene would finish and cut to black as if the show is about to end or go to commercial, only to continue on to the next scene. This stood out because most shows made for streaming are not normally edited to accommodate ads. Maybe there will be commercial breaks when the series airs on Roku, but during the initial watch, having the show cut to black and complete silence for just a second too long ruined the pacing of the episode.

When watching the first episode, the first negative that stood out, and kept standing out, was the dialogue. While most of it is nothing spectacular, there are a few key lines of dialogue that can leave a bad taste in some viewers’ mouths. When Mulgarath initially takes his human form, he says to his underling, who has taken the form of a teenage girl, “When I am in this form, call me daddy.” While the writer’s intention is clear and makes more sense in the context of the scene, a grown man telling a teenage girl to “call him daddy” will never play right.

Another instance of some incredibly off dialogue yet again comes from Mulgarath, when he is describing the motives behind his evil plan. When his underling makes a comment about the over-excess of packaging used to ship a USB cord and AA batteries, Mulgarath says the reason is that he wants to destroy humanity. His rationale essentially boils down to something like this: he wants to end the human race because Jeffrey Bezos is destroying the planet. That’s it, folks. That is his motivation. Due to everyone’s over-reliance on Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping, Mulgarath has come to lay vengeance upon us all. Even though lines of dialogue like these do not happen all too often in the first episode, they do occur often enough that they can diminish viewers’ investment in the series.

Other than that, the series premiere is fine. The family dynamic is copy-pasted from a million other family dramas. There is the uptight sister who is always hating on one of the brothers, unprovoked of course, and is told she cannot achieve her dreams, only to find a new destiny later on in the series. The brothers are twins, so there is the studious one who everyone likes, and then there is the troublemaker who is artistic and creates problems for himself and everyone around him because he refuses to face his issues. The mom, meanwhile, is trying to hold it all together and make the best of a bad situation.

In conclusion, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” delivers a fine enough first episode that fans of the books will probably enjoy but is nothing amazing that new audiences should rush to check out. 1 out of 5 stars.

Featured Image via Roku

You may also like