Inkheart (2009)
Inkheart (2009)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: January 23rd, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Iain Softley Actors: Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Sienna Guillory, Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis

 


 

B

ased on Cornelia Funke’s novel, “Inkheart” presents a supremely fascinating concept with limitless possibilities. Unfortunately, the direction it takes falls into the predictable realm of formulaic fantasy. It’s as if a quota must be reached for daring escapes, rescue attempts, and damsels in distress. The basic plot is as convoluted and faulty as time travel, and without very finite ground rules, the details and conclusion feel contrived – unnaturally forced in order to neatly right the predicaments. Several characters are wasted and the most adventurous avenues are left completely unexplored. For a fun-filled fantasy film, “Inkheart” isn’t entirely a letdown, boasting first-rate special effects and well-paced action, which puts this inventive picture well above the utter failures of “Eragon” or “The Seeker.”

Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) has a rare magical gift that allows him to bring to life anything he reads out loud from a book. It’s more complicated than it sounds; when he reads aloud, the elements in each passage are transported into his current location, as if directly from the world defined in the book, and someone from his own time is sent into the book in exchange. This implies that every written story must create an environment that exists on a unique timeline, and that those creations exist somewhere in three dimensions. Further confusion is introduced when one of the characters brought to life by Mo (or rather out of the book’s life) worries about how his story will end – hinting that each book also has a timeline concurrent with present time. Later on, it’s referenced that the characters in books can change the course of their destiny, even though it’s realistically cemented in unchanging printed words.

Mo’s troubles start because he is unaware he has such an ability (humans with this skill are known as Silvertongues). He reads the story of “Inkheart” to his young daughter and wife, unleashing the dastardly villain Capricorn (Andy Serkis), along with the roguish fire-juggling Dustfinger (Paul Bettany). Mo’s wife vanishes and Capricorn sets about building himself an army of storybook henchmen. Mo vows never to read another book out loud, so twelve years pass without incident. His daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) has grown up and wonders about Mo’s obsessive quest to obtain another copy of the “Inkheart” book to try and correct his decade-old error. When he finally finds another copy in an antiquarian bookshop, Dustfinger reappears, begging the Silvertongue to return him to his world; when Mo refuses, the ilk of Capricorn is summoned to force compliance.

There are well-intentioned themes (involving the power of reading and writing, among others) floating around in the story of “Inkheart,” but the film fails to fully illustrate the creativity of the major concepts. The villains are, of course, unthreatening (this is a kid’s movie, after all), Helen Mirren’s supporting role is wasted, and each of the characters is designed in the most generic manner. For a plot that is already incredibly outlandish and difficult to accept, it’s odd to cast Brendan Fraser, who brings an instant air of goofiness and tongue-in-cheek humor to a character that would have been more effective if played seriously.

In one scene, a Silvertongue is forced to read out of various books to prove her skill; as the camera pans across the room, the audience can see Cinderella’s glass slipper, Huckleberry Finn’s raft, the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel’s world, the Sword in the Stone, and many more recognizable storybook entities. It’s at this moment, with countless novels at the creator’s disposal, that viewers will acknowledge the biggest disappointment: imagining what could have been. What an amazingly unique concept with such mediocre execution.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10