Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

I Am LegendAdapted from the Spiderwick series of books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, The Spiderwick Chronicles is essentially a children's movie. Still it had monsters and magic in it so that was enough to woo us big kids in to see it. Here's a summary of the plot…
When recently divorced Helen Grace (Mary-Louise Parker) and family move into the old Spiderwick house, left to her by their elderly aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright), it's more a matter of need than design. The place is old, creaky and just a little bit spooky and while the kids are exploring, Mallory Grace (Sarah Bolger) discovers a hidden dumb waiter behind a wall. In the waiter, they discover a horde of stuff, some of which they'd been blaming each other for taking, and among the loot, Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) finds an old monogrammed key.

Not satisfied with their finds, Jared ventures up the dumb waiter and discovers the study of his great-uncle, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). In the study, Jared uses the key he found earlier to open a chest in which he finds Spiderwick's Field Guide, which has a note attached with a warning not to read the book. However, being of an inquisitive nature, Jared opens the book and starts a chain of events that puts the whole world of faerie at risk of destruction, not to mention endangering the lives of himself and his family.

We were both pleasantly surprised by this film. I've never read any of the books so can't compare the storyline here with any of them but we decided to go and see it after watching the trailer. Sometimes a bad idea I know but in this case it proved a good choice. The story is told from the point of view of the central character Jared and follows what happens when he and his siblings discover that they live alongside a hidden world of magical creatures, some good and some extremely evil indeed.

Freddie Highmore does an excellent job portraying both the Grace twins, Jared and Simon, and manages to play those completely different characters very well. Mary-Louise Parker does a good job as the displaced mother, trying to rebuild her life and provide for her children after their father has left them. Veteran Joan Plowright makes an appearance as the elederly aunt and proves that she's still got a fair bit of mileage left as an actress while Nick Nolte is reasonably menacing as the Mulgarath the evil, shape-shifting Ogre. On the more amusing front, Martin Short provides the voice talent for Thimbletack the Brownie, probably the most interesting and entertaining of the faerie characters here.

The special effects are very well crafted with the live action and CGI mixing together beautifully. From Thimbletack shifting from Brownie to Boggart when he gets mad or the various forms taken by Mulgarath, it all seems to blend into the sets and action very well. The storyline moves along at a reasonable pace with enough action and interesting moments to keep both kids and adults happy enough, although there are a few scenes that might be a bit frightening for very young children.

Well worth catching on the big screen!

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Thriller
My Rating: 8/10

Monday, April 21, 2008

Prey - by Michael Crichton

PreyI quite like Michael Crichton's writing so when I spotted Prey for around £3 in ASDA a few weeks ago it seemed a no-brainer for something to read.
Californian Artificial Intelligence systems expert Jack Forman, fired for trying to expose his boss's criminal activities, is practically unemployable and finding life as a house-husband very stressful. His wife Julia however, is riding high an an executive in a nanorobotics company on the verge of perfecting a revolutionary new nano-technology based medical imaging technology.

When Julia starts working very long hours and behaving very oddly, Jack suspects she's having affair. But then his daughter develops a strange rash that disappears as soon as she's put in an MRI and when his son's MP3 player's memory chips simply corrode away and he finds a strange device in his daughter's room, he suspects something much more sinister is afoot.

When he gets invited to help with a software problem at Julia's company fabrication plant out in the desert, he doesn't think twice. However, that's when things start to get really out of control!

Prey serves us up a tale of nanobots gone rogue. However, these aren't just your average nanobots, these are intelligent, solar-powered and self-replicating with a drive to succeed and prosper as a "species" and all of this was programmed into them by us short-sighted humans. In essence, Crichton is trying to tell us what could happen when commercial pressures force companies to disregard the proper controls over scientific research and produce something that could threaten our very existence on Earth.

Frankly, I didn't buy it! Sure, it's an entertaining enough read but the science just didn't ring true enough and as someone with a fair bit of programming experience, the idea of them being able to install a whole AI predator-based program into something of just above atomic size, seems highly doubtful. Not impossible but just very, very unlikely with our current silicon technology. On top of that it was a bit predictable and it seemed obvious that Mr. Crichton had written it with the potential for a movie deal in mind.

A sensationalist, over-hyped, sci-fi thriller - quite readable but switch off your logic circuits first.

Genre: Science-Fiction, Thriller
ISBN: 978-0-00-722973-4
My Rating: 6/10