29 July 2008

Wrong Answer in Spiderwick Movie

While traveling last month, I saw the film adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles on an airplane. Not the best place to see any movie, to be sure, but in this case I didn't feel I'd missed too much. The movie had far too little griffin, and the story felt small compared to the books. Of course, when most of the speaking roles are handled through computer graphics and the two main roles are played by the same actor, the cast is bound to seem small.

However, what really bothered me about the movie adaptation was the ending. Did that happen in the books? I wondered. This week I found an essay on Nick Owchar's Jacket Copy blog for the Los Angeles Times that expressed my feelings very well [***SPOILERS*** and all]:

In both cases -- books and movie -- the villainous ogre, named Mulgarath, is confronted by the children. And in both cases, the wily shapechanger tries to fool the children by taking the form of their father. It doesn’t work. In the books, Jared suspects that "Dad" is a phony and tells him so, causing the ogre to give up his ruse and resume his monstrous shape, tree-limbs and all. A showdown ensues in the ogre's shabby palace.

In the movie? Quite a different climax.

Here, we get a heavy undercurrent of family unhappiness, of marital collapse; the mother is a wreck and the father’s absence is painfully felt. When the father (played by Andrew McCarthy) finally does appear at the movie’s end, he gets asked a question by Jared as he walks through the mansion’s front door. Jared’s question is extremely general: He wants to know what message his father promised to give him when he arrived at the estate for a visit. Of course, it’s a test to confirm his father’s identity.

With a puzzled look on his face, Mr. Pretty in Pink says plainly: “I love you.”

There is no menace, no sarcasm nor any irony, nothing to cue us that lurking behind his aging boyish face might be a yellow-eyed creature of nightmares. He sounds like any beleaguered parent facing a child unhappy that his parents have split up.

What is Jared’s response?

“Wrong answer!” he declares, and then -- the horror of it -- he stabs his father in the chest with a kitchen knife. The father gasps in disbelief, and then, he hunches over and begins a transformation that makes his skin bubble and stretch as the true villain is revealed.

What’s going on here?

Why turn Jared's defiant challenge into a stabbing? Kids are savvy, I agree, but why force such an ugly scene on them?

Irony rules the day in Hollywood. I’m sure that Jared’s stabbing of “his father” was explained in some concept meeting as being a powerful expression of how much pain he feels because of his father’s desertion.

On the screen, though, it only makes Jared seem vicious, especially because it comes in response to being told he is loved. Jared’s brilliant ability to detect elfin fakery is never established, and Mulgarath’s shapechanging early in the movie is so minimal that it’s easy to forget. This change to the story loses sight of the bright tones and adventurous spirit in the series. The filmmakers evidently forgot something important: This is a story for children, not adults. Save the parricides for your R movies. Oedipus doesn’t play well with kids, ok?
And right after the stabbing, Andrew McCarthy reverts back into Nick Nolte--which is even more scary.

1 comment:

Molly said...

I also watched the Spiderwick movie on a plane, which maybe wasn't the best decision. I've never read the books, but the movie felt really angry to me. Like Nickelodeon's other book to movie Series of Unfortunate Events, the story was rushed to the point where I was just left confused. But because I had read a few of the Events books, it was less apparent in that film. Your excerpt of Ochwar's essay really hit it on the nose for me.

Maybe it's because I was on a plane, but the movie never felt adventurous, the whole time I had an incredible sense of dread and panic.
In any case if their movies are going to come out like that, maybe Nickelodeon should lay off making them.

Anyway, nice blog! I check it often.