To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
BY Steven D. Greydanus
New this week
on DVD, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a smart, scary
fantasy family thriller that offers depth and meaning in a genre littered with
mere competent entertainment. Where films like Zathura
and Night at the Museum offer roller-coaster
excitement but little more, Spiderwick is
actually about something.
And while like those earlier films Spiderwick
involves a broken family, it also offers a moral perspective on divorce and
parental fickleness absent in the other films.
Based on the best-selling pentalogy
by Holly Black, Spiderwick tells the
story of three children who find their home besieged by malevolent, unseen
enemies just as their parents’ marriage is unraveling. (Spoiler warning.) While
the family homestead has long been protected by a magical circle the goblins
can’t cross, it turns out that protective circles can be broken as irrevocably
as a child’s faith in a faithless parent.
Like divorce itself, Spiderwick
is genuinely frightening — too frightening for younger kids. Yet there are also
good creatures (“my guardian angel,” one is explicitly called). Other fairies
are symbolically connected with death. They first seem cruel in taking loved
ones away, but are later seen to reunite long-separated loved ones.
In today’s world, alas, it makes
sense that family films should acknowledge the reality of broken families, yet
I chafe at how films like Zathura and Night
at the Museum normalize the subject. Spiderwick,
like E.T., is raw with grief and anger over the
breakup of the family — just how a family film should feel, in my book.
Also new on DVD, Caramel
offers another interesting twist on a familiar genre. The story centers on a
beauty salon as the hub of activity in the lives of several women. In many ways
it resembles a Hollywood chick flick — except that it’s a Lebanese film set in
Milder in content than its American
counterparts (with a restrained PG rather than a brassy PG-13), Caramel
is more mature in content, touching on dicey subjects from adultery to same-sex
attraction without the adolescent brashness of home-grown versions. One
character endures humiliation and shame as a result of an affair with a married
man. Others struggle with the cult of beauty. In the film’s one notable caveat,
there seems to be something between a shampoo girl and a beautiful customer,
though other than hair-washing nothing happens between them.
character is Muslim; most are Maronite Catholics, and rosaries, icons and a
Marian procession are part of the fabric of the film. While religion isn’t as
important to the characters as it could be, it’s intriguing to see Middle-eastern
Christians and Muslims living and working side by side with no religious
conflict or tension, facing more or less the same sorts of problems as
characters in American studio comedies.