The Spiderwick Chronicles: Season 1 REVIEW – Lacks the Magic

The Spiderwick Chronicles isn't quite the fantasy adventure it was supposed to be.

The Spiderwick Chronicles
The Spiderwick Chronicles

We are in the age of remakes, reboots and adaptations. So if there’s a source material that worked before, and some time has passed, then it’s fair game to remake it again. This is how we ended up with a TV series of The Spiderwick Chronicles, an adaptation of the book series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as its movie predecessor, which had enough solid effects that we almost believed Freddie Highmore had a twin.

Helen (Joy Bryant) decides to move her three children – Mallory (Mychala Lee), Jared (Lyon Daniels) and Simon (Noah Cottrell) – from Brooklyn to Hensen after her divorce. They move into their great grandfather’s dilapidated house, and everyone is filled with trepidation more than optimism. Jared has struggled with his mental health and behaviour, so Helen’s arranged to have him treated by Dr. Dorian Brauer (Christian Slater). However, we learn early on that Dr. Brauer has been replaced by an ogre called Mulgarath, who’s in search of their great grandfather’s field guide.

Jared arrives at their new home to discover a creature called Thimbletack (Jack Dylan Grazer) wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, because of his past behaviour, no one believes him. The only one who does is his grand-aunt Lucinda, but she’s been in a mental health hospital for most of her life, so that doesn’t really help his credibility. He manages to recruit his brother Simon and two friends Emiko and Hatcher, and they need to get to all the pages in the field guide before Mulgarath can get his murderous hands on them.

Given that this is a fantasy series about magical creatures, there is a certain expectation to deliver on this world. However, we don’t really get this. Most of the series is just humdrum conversations between the characters, and the fantastical elements are kept to a minimum due to the constraints in budget. They give us a glimpse of something before quickly cutting away. Even a fencing sequence can look so bland and uninteresting. Some of the effects are also distractingly bad – there are some moments where you can see that the actor is basically standing in front of a green screen.

The young actors try their best, but the narrative and scriptwriting just doesn’t give them enough source material to make an impression. While each character has their arcs – Mallory has her fencing and the twins have their journey to find all the pages of the field guide – it feels a bit too broad strokes. We know their motivations in the story, but never really get to know them as proper characters. It’s a shame as the familial relations are where the heart of the story is.

We can understand that Mallory’s perfectionism is a result of her brother’s chaos, or that Simon feels a kinship with Calliope – Dr. Brauer’s daughter – because she’s the one friendship he has that’s separate from everything to do with Jared. When you compare the series to other shows that tread into the whole of fantasy and magic – like The Magicians or Stranger Things – it’s just severely lacking in both the worldbuilding and characterisation.

Slater in particular seems to be having fun as the villain of the series – he’s chewing scenery every chance he gets – and does fine in his dual role of being both the monster and the empathetic Dr. Brauer.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is lacking in magic and fantasy – viewers are better off with the 2008 movie, or maybe just stick to the books themselves.

Review screener provided.

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The Spiderwick Chronicles
The series is undone by its lack of magic and dull pacing. It's a shame as it wastes the talents of its cast, who try their best but are held back by the half-baked writing.