Film: "The Spiderwick Chronicles”

Official Movie Production Notes

The Spiderwick Chronicles” is an extraordinary fantasy adventure, filled with creatures from an unseen world. When the Grace family comes face to face with these magical, and sometimes scary creatures, they must not only test themselves but overcome their family conflicts as well.

The story revolves around the three Grace children - Jared and his twin brother, Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore), and their older sister, Mallory (Sarah Bolger) - and their recently separated mother, Helen (Mary-Louise Parker).

The family moves into the isolated, dilapidated Spiderwick Estate, the former home of their great, great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn) and great-aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright). While the kids resent the move, they each begin to adjust in their own way – Simon, the more studious twin, examining the unusual home, Mallory practicing her fencing, Helen getting a new job in a nearby town.

Jared, though, begins to notice unusual things happening around the magical house, and begins to investigate. Ignoring the warning of a house “brownie,” Thimbletack (Martin Short), an enchanted creature who lives in the walls of the manor, he comes upon a strange and potentially dangerous book written by Uncle Arthur, Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. Once opened, the book reveals – and unleashes – a world surrounding the Spiderwick Estate inhabited by some odd, wonderful - and scary – beings: a wily but friendly hobgoblin named Hogsqueal (Seth Rogen), a pack of dangerous goblins and the beautiful and mysterious fairies and sprites. Only those who look through a magical “seeing stone” or have a slovenly hobgoblin spit in their eye – the gooey fate of each of the children – can see these creatures.

But it is the crafty, evil ogre, Mulgarath (Nick Nolte), who poses the most ominous threat. The children begin to realize that the Field Guide is not merely a work of their uncle’s imagination, but the key to all the fabulous beings they encounter, offering unbelievable power to anyone who understands its secrets. And Mulgarath will stop at nothing to get his hands on it!

Filled with rich fantasy, emotion, suspense and action, the film chronicles the Grace children’s desperate attempts to protect the Field Guide and ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, while drawing on – and building – their own strengths, with the help of some extraordinary creatures from the Unseen World.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Director Mark Waters was drawn to the uniquely imaginative elements of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s The Spiderwick Chronicles, particularly since they are played out in the context of a time and place audiences could relate to – today’s America. “I’ve always loved movies in the fantasy genre, and when I read these books I saw the opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done before – a movie that dealt with adventure, fantasy and incredibly interesting creatures, but wasn’t set in a far-off land with British wizards or Gothic orphans, or just some kind of strange, unrecognizable lead actors.”

Instead, Waters says, the film features kid-characters audiences can easily identify with. “They just seem to have been plunked down in an extremely extraordinary situation when the Grace family moves into this family estate they inherited and are slowly introduced to those creatures through a Field Guide. Here was an opportunity to make a movie that everyone could relate to immediately, and relate to just the fact that these kind of crazy, strange creatures could be around us at any time.”

One of the reasons the children in the story are identifiable, he says, is that they struggle with problems shared by many families today. “But the enchanted and often perilous journey they embark upon allows them to discover and draw on strengths they never knew they had – as individuals, and, more importantly, as a family.”

Jared Grace, played by Freddie Highmore, is at a crisis point in his life, and it is through this extraordinary adventure that he comes to terms with his feelings about his parents’ separation, Waters explains. “Jared has been deeply affected by the divorce; he’s very angry and rebellious and doesn’t hide his bitterness, especially in his interaction with his mother and siblings. But in the end, this incredible journey, which ends up with him basically saving his family, results in him healing himself, too.”

Helen Grace, played by Mary-Louise Parker, has just broken up with her husband and moves into the old family estate, a dark, dilapidated Victorian house named for her great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick. Nobody is happy about it, but she does have an ally in her daughter, Mallory, played by Sarah Bolger. “Mallory is kind of like a mini-mom. She also has the clearest sense of why the divorce took place, but doesn’t initially share this with her brothers – she is very protective of them, even though they drive her crazy, particularly Jared,” says Waters.

Simon Grace - who is also played by Freddie Highmore - is the nerdier of the two, but his quiet determination and attention to detail become great assets when the family is in danger. “More importantly, they overcome their differences and work together and, in the process, learn to love and appreciate each other,” Waters sums up. “The fantasy world ultimately allows them to more clearly see and understand their own reality.”

The adventure begins when Jared comes across Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. What Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), the man who built the estate, didn’t realize when he wrote the manual was that the secrets he revealed about the hidden faerie world could act as a “how-to manual” and be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. So when Jared comes across this book that’s been hidden in the house for some 60 or 70 years, he literally opens a Pandora’s box.

At first, he’s excited by the odd and altogether wondrous creatures Uncle Arthur wrote about. Then it dawns on him and his siblings that this secret world exists in their own house – which explains some of the odd things that have been happening around them. That scampering sound in the wall is actually an imp known as a brownie. And, according to the Field Guide, when brownies get angry, they become boggarts, who can only be placated, the Guide tells them, by feeding them honey, which they guzzle to satisfaction. It soon becomes clear that everything in the book – from talk of brownies and ogres – is actually their reality and not just the ramblings of their uncle’s vivid imagination.

The various creatures the children come upon in the film range in size from the nine-inch brownie, Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short) to the ten-foot fearsome ogre Mulgarath (played by Nick Nolte). “Then there are all the creatures in between,” Waters explains, “like the goblins, little sprites and hobgoblins, such as Hogsqueal, who becomes the children’s ally – that is, when he isn’t distracted by birds, which he likes to eat.” Hogsqueal is voiced, with great humor - and lots of inappropriate noises - by Seth Rogen.

The Spiderwick Chronicles began as a popular series of books by co-creators Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. There has long been interest in bringing the stories to the screen and DiTerlizzi and Black wanted to entrust their creation to capable hands. Ultimately, they saw Mark Canton as the perfect producer for the film. And Kathleen Kennedy, to DiTerlizzi and Black’s delight, soon joined him.

“A lot of friends and fans who had read the books and seen the art, thought this story would make a cool movie,” recalls DiTerlizzi. “It was a dream of mine as well, but a lot of books get optioned to be developed into films...so Holly and I held out hope that it might actually happen. "What we really loved about the filmmakers’ approach was that they seemed to love and respect the characters, creatures and world that define The Spiderwick Chronicles. Our heroes don't have any special powers and don't live in a land far, far away. They have to rely on their wits, and each other, to get out of the extraordinary, and often dangerous, situations they find themselves in when they enter the world of the fey.”

The duo was inspired by the classics like Grimm's Fairy Tales. "There was always a clever Jack to outwit the giant, or a resourceful princess who had to do something ingenious to escape the goblin's castle,” Di Terlizzi continues. “The idea is that knowledge is power, and how they use it (in this case, how the kids use Arthur's Field Guide), is the crux of the plot. Mark Waters really embraced that idea and ran with it."

"When the first books were finished and people approached us about optioning them, I had a sense that they might become a movie but I'm not practiced in believing anything good will ever happen to me," laughs Black. "So I was stunned and thrilled when Mark Waters and Mark Canton got involved and later, the incredible cast. When I saw the sets, it was like walking into the book. The whole thing was incredible."

Producer and co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick says that when he was first approached to help adapt the Spiderwick books into a screenplay, he immediately read the books to his children to gauge their reaction. “They were enthralled by the books and by the possibility that I might be involved with them in some way. I, like them, was really taken by the notion that the things we are unable to see – or choose not to see – are actually there all around us. That’s thematically what I started connecting with – something with a lot of fantasy elements, but with a human story at the center of it, which relates to the special world around it. I was drawn to the kids in the middle of this broken family and how the whole situation ultimately helped to bring them together,” Kirkpatrick says.

It is precisely this unique balance of fantasy and reality that separates “The Spiderwick Chronicles” from other fantasy adventure films, according to producer Canton. It is darker, scarier and much more grounded in the real world.

“The idea here was to have a real world where inexplicable and often frightening things happen. What grounds it and makes it resonate is that we are dealing with a real family with real problems, and through this adventure they are able to find the magic inside themselves.”

The story rings true to how many dysfunctional families cope in times of strife, he says, by making an effort to work together to get through the tough patches.

“We wanted to make a movie that is honest to the language of the teenagers and the adults in the story, and honest to the problems teenagers have with one other and with their parents.”

Canton offers that his fellow producers, who include Kirkpatrick, Larry Franco and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, put together a superlative crew. “When you’re on set and amongst the legends and the Oscar® winners from all areas, it’s hard not to be blown away.”

Canton is referring to the dream-team of ILM visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman, creature supervisor Phil Tippett of Tippett Studio, and special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, who handled on-set effects. Add to that director of photography Caleb Deschanel, composer James Horner, editor Michael Kahn and production designer Jim Bissell, all of whom contribute to the enchanting feel of the movie.

“Also, Mark Waters and the casting folks did a fantastic job in assembling a very eclectic, wonderful cast,” Canton says. “When I first saw Freddie Highmore’s work I knew I wanted to work with him. You feel he’s older than his chronological age, but at the same time he’s still very much a kid. And he had a big challenge here, in that he plays both Jared and Simon (which was also a very courageous way for Mark Waters to direct the movie). Of course, Sarah Bolger was so brilliant in Jim Sheridan’s ‘In America.’ Like Freddie, Sarah’s a natural, but yet an experienced actress. And Mary-Louise Parker is just great and so brilliantly conveys this young divorced mother’s hopes and fears and overriding love for her kids. Joan Plowright is such an amazingly accomplished actress. And you don’t find actors much better than David Strathairn.”

While Waters, who previously specialized in hilarious contemporary comedies, would seem an offbeat choice for the material, Canton deliberately chose him to direct because he was uniquely capable of grounding all the fantasy elements in a palpable reality. “The idea I had for ‘Spiderwick’ was to have a real world in which amazing things happened. Mark is the perfect director because of his understanding of the dynamics between sisters and brothers, mothers and children and of contemporary family life.”

Canton is referring to Waters’ previous hit comedies such as “Mean Girls” and “Freaky Friday.” “I thought ‘Mean Girls’ was a very honest look at the teenage world and he particularly got the teen vernacular. The speech and the attitude of those young women felt very real to me. The key to this story was to have a family of characters we all related to and, through their adventure, have them find the magic inside themselves.”

Canton noted a similar approach by Waters to the mother-daughter comedy “Freaky Friday,” in which the two female characters exchange bodies and, through that, come to terms with their own lives and with each other. “He has a way of conveying this without talking down to his audience. He was ideally suited to making a movie that is honest to the language and feelings of teenagers and their parents. Mark connected with the subject and understood how to convey it.”

Next: The Spiderwick Estate as a Character

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