Music Composed & Conducted by: James Horner
Movie Genre: Family, Fantasy.
Movie & Soundtrack Release (CD): 2008
Label: Lakeshore Records
Available also as a digital stream/download
___ SPOILER ALERT ___
“At a time when the distinctive identity in film music
is something questionable and never given,
soundtracks like The Spiderwick Chronicles remind us
how self-evident this was in the musical scores of James Horner.”
When a mother along with her three children moves to her old family country house, the adjustment will be difficult. Especially when they find out a fantasy world that lies in the forest. But, before this happens, the viewer of the movie “The Spiderwick Chronicles” has taken a taste from the past, the writing of a book by Arthur Spiderwick which contains all the secrets of the unseen world surrounding his house. But what kind of world is that? It is too early for revelations and the musical introduction of the movie in “Writing the Chronicles” (#1) is frugal with information. A sense of uncertainty and uneasiness is recorded in the first minutes of the movie’s music. The composer James Horner does not yet want to lay his cards on the table and he does the right thing. The orchestra in combination with electronic voices gives rise to doubt. The source of the mystery comes from a motif with cold violins, in which the music seems to take a step forward, whereas right after, it takes a step back. It feels like the musical narrative is not progressing, there is a stillness, and the composer chooses to do so because danger is lurking, as it will be seen along the story. This motif of mystery clearly appears between 00:40 – 01:02 of the above track, where it is four times repeated. It will be also heard later in the music, as the mystery continues and the questions about the fantasy world are increasing.
Remaining in “Writing the Chronicles” (#1), we notice a rapid turn of the music between 01:43 – 02:02, when it becomes frightening. It is because we then see Arthur Spiderwick drawing the appearance of Mulgarath, a burly monster that can change its appearance and is lurking in the unseen world of the forest. At 04:24 of “Hosqueal’s Warning of a Bargain with Mulgarath” (#4), the same frightening music returns, not played by the strings, as it was previously presented, but by the brass instruments of the orchestra. The physical presence of Mulgarath and his transformation from an elderly man to a monster requires a more intense musical support, with the brass instruments giving the required importance to this scene.
James Horner also gives a musical identity to two other creatures of the story, which help the descendants of Arthur Spiderwick to get away from Mulgarath and his goblin servants. Thimbletack, a brownie (domestic creature) that becomes green when he gets angry, is distinguished by his own musical instrument, a harpsichord, which gives a sense of oldness in the music’s flow, taking us 80 years ago, when Arthur Spiderwick wrote the book that Mulgarath frantically wants to snaffle. Listen to the harpsichord of Thimbletack at 00:59 of “Thimbletack and the Goblins” (#3). Another ally of the new residents of the house of Arthur Spiderwick is Hosqueal, a hobgoblin, who loves eating birds and always appears in the music in a comical way, as suggested by his motif at the beginning of “Hosqueal’s Warning of a Bargain with Mulgarath” (#4). There is an accordion involved in its performance, an additional touch enhancing the comical presence of the character.
Moments of adventure are heard for the first time in “Dark Enemies from the Forest Attack” (#6), which are continued with greater intensity in “A Desperate Run Through the Tunnel” (#8). From 02:58, actually, the suspense is peaking, as a pursuit is in progress. Until the end of the track “A Desperate Run Through the Tunnel” (#8), the orchestra is accelerating and in combination with the scene that it accompanies, the music keeps the viewers at the edge of their seats! Until this point, the movie’s score has several interesting points, mainly aiming at the creation of a mysterious atmosphere, under the haunting threat of the unseen world of the forest that is gradually becoming visible. However, from the track “Lucinda’s Story” (#9) and until the end of the movie, the music gets a rich melodic atmosphere with new musical themes appearing and the mature look of the composer James Horner bringing memorable moments to the viewer’s ears. Musical moments that stir up strong emotions, as the composer used to.
The daughter of Arthur Spiderwick, the elderly now and institutionalized Lucinda, appears in the story and is accompanied by her own tender theme at 00:45 of “Lucinda’s Story” (#9). She lost her father when she was a little girl. Since then, she had been waiting for him to return, but in vain. The moment she sees her father’s book she gets upset, causing the music to darken temporarily. Her sweet theme returns as she is narrating the last moments she experienced with her father, but it is covered by a haunted veil. Her theme may be airy, but also faraway, as she is watching her father getting away in the air inside a white cloud, formed by little airy creatures, the sylphs, which guard the world of fairies. It is a kind of abduction that protects him from Mulgarath but in the world of fairies he will lose track of time.
The motif of mystery that we remember from the beginning of the movie, will make several appearances in the track “Lucinda’s Story” (#9). Other appearances have preceded in the tracks “So Many New Worlds Revealed” (#2), “Thimbletack and the Goblins” (#3) & “Discovering Spiderwick’s Secret Workshop” (#5). When it appears, it is usually linked to the book of Arthur Spiderwick. So an initial idea of mystery is subsequently translated into a signal of danger for the book, which comes from the constant threat that is posed by Mulgarath and his minions. When some of its valuable pages come into his hands, then the role of this motif is eliminated and it will not be repeated in the music.
At 03:53 of “Lucinda’s Story” (#9), there is a timid hint of a theme accompanying the abduction of Lucinda’s father by the sylphs. His airy rising and disappearance or, in other words, the transition to the world where the fairies live bears the stamp of a new theme that is soon expected to steal the show as the events of the story are unfolding. Lucinda then is left alone, as she is now alone as well, at the present time, when she is narrating these events. Her beautiful theme is this time performed by a piano at 04:40 and there is not a more descriptive way to express the loneliness that little Lucinda experienced then and that the elderly Lucinda is even now experiencing. A life in loneliness. The rapid orchestral outburst at the end of “Lucinda’s Story” (#9) signals an unpleasant development, since the goblins retrieve some of the book’s pages.
Lucinda’s advice to her young descendants is to find her father. But there is no way that he is alive, he would be 125 years old! Time, however, is not counted in the same way in the world of fairies. They must go there and the only way to do so is by using her father’s pet, a griffin (a mythological creature with an eagle’s head and wings and a lion’s body). The griffin’s flight towards the glade where Arthur Spiderwick lives in the realm of fairies, is the most exciting thing that someone will hear in the movie’s soundtrack! It is the track “The Flight of the Griffin” (#10), where we have the imposing presentation of the theme that was earlier implied when Lucinda was watching the sylphs taking away her father. At 03:22 it appears dressed up, before, during and after, by wonderful orchestral peaks that express the adrenaline of the flight. At 04:14 the orchestra’s performance becomes staggering, is led to a crescendo, with the brass instruments describing an imminent crash with a mountain of ice that was a near miss, since there lies the passage to the world of fairies. James Horner has been astounding in creating moments of awe in the music he wrote, when the circumstances gave him the chance, as in this case. At 05:09, while Arthur Spiderwick is talking with his young descendants about his daughter Lucinda, her theme returns in the music performed by a flute.
The harpsichord is unexpectedly repeated in “Escape from the Glade” (#10), while we are still in the world of fairies. The allusion to Thimbletack implies his involvement in something that is not revealed, despite that he may not be present. The descendants of Arthur Spiderwick will escape from the realm of fairies and will return home. The musical theme that accompanied them during the flight towards the realm of fairies is the same one that will accompany them during their return, in a shorter version. After its quiet fading away as they are arriving home, the orchestra changes course and becomes rushed and persistent, waiting for an imminent danger. The goblins are expected to attack again. The music sounds like a call to battle stations from 03:56 until the end of “Escape from the Glade” (#10). The attack begins and the search for an opening that will make the goblins able to enter the house is depicted in the music through the technique of pizzicato, namely the pinching of the strings with the fingertips. A clever and very suitable idea on the part of the composer, which comes at 01:01 of “The Protective Circle is Broken…!” (#12). The beat of the percussion after the pizzicato, which causes surprise and fright, means that the Goblins have entered the house.
In the chaos of battle, the comical theme of Hosqueal is heard at 03:54 of “Jared and Mulgarath Fight for the Chronicles” (#13), giving an unexpected happy ending, with his crucial help. Lucinda returns at her house. Her hesitant gait on the doorstep reveals the corresponding hesitation in the performance of her theme at 01:21 of “Coming Home” (#14). The harpsichord appears once more, when she encounters Thimbletack and talks with him. Now that the danger is over, the sylphs allow Arthur Spiderwick to return at his house and meet his daughter Lucinda. But, since he is 125 years old and if he remains in the world of humans he will become dust, he invites his 86-year-old daughter to return with him in the realm of fairies. The piano performs for the last time the lonely theme of Lucinda and then the orchestra along with the ethereal electronic choir performs again the theme that we previously heard during the griffin’s flight. This performance becomes extremely emotional, since father and daughter are back together after 80 years. After the successive hearings of the same theme, which we hear at 04:46 of “Coming Home” (#14), we can now name it the theme of transition, and, in this scene, the transition is towards a magical and idyllic world. The last moments of the movie and its music belong to its supporting characters, namely Hosqueal and Thimbletack, with their musical identities, as these are heard at the end of “Coming Home” (#14). The closing credits start with a performance of incomparable beauty of the theme of transition, from the beginning of “Closing Credits” (#15) until 02:20. The rest of the track works as an alternative presentation of music that has obviously preceded.
James Horner has been resourceful and highly competent at using the orchestra in order to highlight the particularities of each movie. This made him one of the best composers of his generation. The soundtrack he wrote for the movie “The Spiderwick Chronicles” may not be among the best ones that he wrote for the genre of fantasy or in general, but it undoubtedly stands well among his most interesting works and is a sample of mature musical composition, which is lacking nowadays. Whether it is about mystery and suspense or loneliness and drama, James Horner is there to give the ideal musical solution to the riddles posed by the movie. At a time when the distinctive identity in film music is something questionable and never given, soundtracks like this remind us how self-evident this was in the musical scores of James Horner.
01. Writing The Chronicles (3:03)
02. So Many New Worlds Revealed (5:12)
03. Thimbletack And The Goblins (5:16)
04. Hogsqueal’s Warning Of A Bargain With Mulgarath (5:16)
05. Discovering Spiderwick’s Secret Workshop (3:25)
06. Dark Armies From The Forest Attack (3:06)
07. Burning The Book (2:44)
08. A Desperate Run Through The Tunnels (4:47)
09. Lucinda’s Story (6:02)
10. The Flight Of The Griffin (6:56)
11. Escape From The Glade (4:45)
12. The Protective Circle Is Broken….! (2:08)
13. Jared And Mulgarath Fight For The Chronicles (4:17)
14. Coming Home (6:18)
15. Closing Credits (8:23)
Total Time: 71:39
The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * *