Inkheart’s fantasy characters leap off the page and into a world they never made.
By Jared Peterson
Kindly bookbinder Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser, who comes standard with most late-model fantasy films) is a “silvertongue”—one whose voice can literally bring words to life. He first discovered his power when he read a rare storybook called Inkheart to his baby daughter Meggie. His words opened a portal through which the fictional and the flesh-and-blood may trade places. Mo’s wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) disappeared, and several of Inkheart’s characters emerged into the real world, among them Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), a fire-breathing circus performer who wants back into the book, and Capricorn (Andy Serkis), a literary Lex Luthor who plans to stick around and bend this world to his own villainous ends. The book was destroyed, and, for fear of causing more damage, Mo chooses never to read aloud. Years later, Mo travels the world with his the now-teenaged Meggie (Eliza Bennett), repairing decaying masterpieces and secretly searching for another copy of the book that might make his family whole again.
Inkheart is a story about the sometimes unwieldy power of the page—of those lost in books, and those lost without them. Meggie is an avid reader and longs to be a writer, but her coming-of-age is hampered by her father’s fears. Mo’s reclusive Aunt Eleanor (the always superb Helen Mirren) has rejected the coldness and cruelty of the outside world, instead finding comfort in books, which she maintains “love anyone who opens them.” Inkheart’s author (Jim Broadbent) is a doddering eccentric who secretly wishes he could wander within his own creations. We find his opposite in the melancholy Dustfinger, who is forced to wander our world, a vast, unauthored landscape of hidden agendas and uncertain ends. He moves in the shadows, trailing Mo and Meggie in the hopes of returning to his family and to a world that has a place and a plan for him.
Director and producer Iain Softley (Hackers, K-PAX—yeah, I know) deserves some credit for resisting the siren call of action-figure marketability and embracing the power of the written word. It’s hardly surprising that a film about books would be a bit wordy, and the script—written by David Lindsey-Abaire, based on a novel by Cornelia Funke—has its slow moments. But the writing, for the most part, rings true. The characters speak and listen to each other, rather than simply taking their turn to reveal plot points and motivations (a conspicuous weakness of today’s assembly-line adventure flicks). The action unfurls in steep, lush Alpine valleys that give a sense of immersion, of being surrounded on all sides by the atmosphere and the details of a good read. There’s little need for gigantic set pieces and computer-generated environments because here the mystical wonders—unicorns and minotaurs and (oh, my!) flying monkeys—are on our turf.
Capricorn’s fictional thugs are all kinds of ugly, and the most unhinged of them wields a knife and slices at the skin of several characters. A couple of people fall from ceilings and rise unharmed, but crowds of goons are tossed about or swept away by a certain storybook tornado, and one suspects they won’t wake up where the clouds are far behind them. We see a box of slithering snakes, a decayed corpse (briefly), and the aforementioned literary monsters. (The computer-generated flying monkeys make the creepy originals look like cuddly toys.) The final battle is Raiders of the Lost Ark-meets-renaissance fair: summoned from the pages of a book, pure evil takes the form of a huge, black smoke creature with a skull-like face that growls and bellows and charges (very scary for younger viewers); and the villain meets his end in slow, ashy disintegration.
Filed under “do not try this at home”, characters sometimes play with fire or skitter across roof tops, and they make it look easy. Also, a man with a stutter is ridiculed by the bad guys. Under “questionably sexy”, Paul Bettany’s Dustfinger gives a shirtless fire act [Editor: sure, but Paul Bettany is sexy when eating toast], a trio of water nymphs emerge from a lake in drenched gossamer that I couldn’t quite say was see-through, and someone has to pilfer the key to a dungeon from between a decrepit hag’s cleavage (the name of my new band). No swears here, but Capricorn uses the phrase “sour as God’s urine,” demonstrating that some writers should keep their day jobs.
At a January 23rd screening, previews for the following films were shown: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG), which I think is based on a book; Coraline (PG), a stop-motion animated film (this preview features several unnerving characters, some with black buttons for eyes; it also has fart joke); 17 Again (PG-13) with Matthew Perry as a guy who turns into Zac Efron; and Imagine That (PG), with Eddie Murphy, who must be slowing down because he plays only one character.
Jared Peterson had a nifty light pen for movie notetaking, but somebody broke it. The guilty party may make amends at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.