REVIEW: Inkheart [2009]

“You are not my God”

I must say that I am always pleasantly surprised to watch a film without expectations, or the tiniest shred of knowledge, and be completely immersed in its world. With the new fantasy adventure film Inkheart, I experienced just that. Iain Softley’s cinematic adaptation of the best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke is a fun and endearing trip. Rather than going for a whole “otherworld” feel that most fantasies have since LOTR, this one stays in our world. Whether that makes this commercially more viable than the influx of new genre entries the past couple years, (Golden Compass and Prince Caspian), remains to be seen, but I for one hope it does. I liken the story to the Neverending Story only inverted. Rather than a boy reading a book and transporting himself into it, the characters here read the book and bring both the protagonists and antagonists to them. There is of course one caveat, for whatever comes through to Earth, something must go into the book to replace it. Said replacement being our lead’s wife shows that there will be a fight for her return and the banishment of those brought over, back to the written word.

A very short prologue-type moment helps orient the audience with the magic that Inkheart brings. We learn that Brendan Fraser’s Mortimer Folchart is a “Silvertongue”, or person who reads the written word and brings it to reality. Unknown to him until he starts reading a story to his daughter, (my one gripe is that he never found out earlier … with the horrible things he lets in later, you’d have to think something more than Red Riding Hood’s cape would have come through in his past), the danger of his power isn’t felt completely until two villains and a street performer from this obscure novel arrive, sending his wife Resa, (Sienna Guillory in a role I wish would have let us see more of her), into the abyss, trapped. The real story at hand begins nine years after with Folchart and his daughter who doesn’t know about that past event and just believes her mother left them. Supposedly taught in boarding schools on the go—why else would she have that accent—young Meggie, played by Eliza Bennett, is an intelligent girl who follows her book repairing father as he searches for a copy of the tale that took his love away. It takes many years, but finally the copy is found; yet with it comes the rediscovery of them by that trapped street performer, Dustfinger, and the realization that Capricorn, the book’s main villain, wants Folchart captured to find him power and wealth by reading aloud.

What I really enjoyed about the film is that the retrieval of Resa is not the only thing it has going for it. Sure Folchart’s motivations are for that alone, but you also have the needs of those people that replaced her. Dustfinger, the ever-brilliant Paul Bettany who owns each and every scene he has here, is just a corrupted man by necessity, not a true villain, only wanting to get back to the family he left behind. This role is the most fleshed out and tragic, trying desperately to get away from the reputation that precedes him from those who’ve read the story yet unable to break free from the selfish coward he was written as. However, nine years on Earth has changed him; his love and need for his wife has made him into something more than a thief who wields fire and as he says to the author of Inkheart, a fun Jim Broadbent, he controls his own fate. Just the fact that he is out of the book proves that the words written are not the only truth; he can overcome whatever end awaits him on the closing pages of the novel.

But he isn’t the only side character needing something. The other is Capricorn, a vile man looking to take over Earth as his own. Brought to life by Andy Serkis, the role exudes slime and nefarious doings, showing the talent of this actor most known for playing computer generated characters in Peter Jackson epics. Capricorn is a villain to the end and his flip remarks and lack of compassion make for some laughs as well as a worthy opponent to Fraser’s manly man hero as he is a professional now at playing. Fraser is probably the weakest link of the film, but he does the part well and holds together those around him as the common connecting factor.

Actually, everything really does end up being pretty well done across the board. It’s a fun story that may be predictable, but the characters like Dustfinger are so well formed that you find yourself needing to see how their arcs end up. Even the special effects are pretty to look at, from the wispy clouds as fictional people come to our world to the smoke monster Shadow that arrives later on. And I loved seeing some of literature’s best “creatures” in the flesh, held captive at Capricorn’s castle. Really, besides some shoddy bluescreen work of Helen Mirren on a unicorn, there is very little to fault in those terms. Heck, the movie even had a fantastic little inside joke for cinema/Hollywood fans with a glimpse at Dustfinger’s wife left alone back home. Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed when her face appeared on screen, but it was a cute surprise.

So, whether the film stays true to the novel, I can’t say. All I can relate to filmgoers is that as a fan of family-friendly fantasy films, Inkheart certainly surprised me with its likeability and warmth. Maybe not as successful as the classics, Princess Bride, or even 2007’s Stardust, Softley still delivers one worth a look. And while Bettany and Serkis may steal the show, deservingly so, it’s always nice to watch Brendan Fraser in a part that doesn’t scream paycheck. It appears to be too few and far between lately, so I do sincerely hope this one becomes a success at the box office.

Inkheart 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Farid (RAFI GAVRON), Mo (BRENDAN FRASER), Meggie (ELIZA HOPE BENNETT), Dustfinger (PAUL BETTANY) and Elinor (HELEN MIRREN) hide out from the Black Jackets in New Line Cinema’s fantasy adventure “Inkheart,” also starring JIM BROADBENT and ANDY SERKIS. This film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo: Murray Close
[2] Mo (BRENDAN FRASER) and Dustfinger (PAUL BETTANY) navigate through tunnels trying to avoid the Black Jackets in New Line Cinema’s fantasy adventure “Inkheart,” also starring HELEN MIRREN, JIM BROADBENT and ANDY SERKIS. This film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo: Murray Close

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