(New Line) Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren, Eliza Hope Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory, Jennifer Connelly, Jamie Foreman, Rafi Gavron, Roger Allam (voice), John Thomson, Steve Speirs, Matt King, Stephen Graham. Directed by Iain Softley.
Few things in our experience are as powerful as the written word. With it, we can inform, entertain, transport, amaze, horrify, shock, save and titillate. Even in this electronic information age, most of us still get our information by reading something, whether on a printed page or on a computer screen. The most glorious thing is that the written word still has the power to fire up our imaginations to the point where the limitless is possible.
However, there is a far more dangerous magic in the written word. Certain people, called silvertongues, can literally bring the pages of a story to life when they read it aloud. The drawback is that when a character from a fictional universe is brought to the real world, a real person must be sent to the fictional universe to balance things out. As you might guess, people with this gift are few and far between, and those that do have it tend to keep it on the down-low if they use it at all.
Expert bookbinder Mo Folchart (Fraser) learned the hard way about the dangers of this gift. Reading aloud a fantasy story called Inkheart, he drew two characters from its pages; Dustfinger (Bettany), an itinerant fire juggler whose heart is in the right place, but whose courage and integrity are lacking, and Capricorn (Serkis), a genuinely menacing villain who cheerfully plans world domination with an urbane smoothness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie. While Dustfinger desperately wants to return home to his wife (Connelly in a very small role) and kids, Serkis prefers this world, where guns and Silvertongues make evil easier.
What compels Folchart is that his wife Resa (Guillory) was sucked into the pages of Inkheart to replace Capricorn. Now he travels Europe with his precocious daughter Meggie (Bennett) in tow. Meggie is frustrated that she is aware something odd is going on, and is bothered by the nagging feeling that her father knows a lot more than he’s telling her, particularly about her mother’s disappearance. She gets the feeling somebody is chasing him, even as he is searching for something, a specific book.
When Dustfinger catches up with Folchart, the bookbinder is none too pleased to see him. In fact, Folchart runs away with Meggie, barely escaping the grasp of the juggler. Folchart and Meggie head to the home of Great-Aunt Elinor (Mirren). She is abrasive and unfriendly, but once you get past the outward unpleasantness she actually is loyal and loving. Still, she’s unprepared for her sanctuary to be invaded by men with evil intent, and her beloved antique book collection torched.
A desperate Dustfinger has led Capricorn’s men to Folchart, and the bookbinder, his daughter and Great-Aunt Elinor are taken to Capricorn’s castle, where he has a collection of creatures from the pages of fiction – the flying monkeys of “The Wizard of Oz,” the minotaur from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the Tick-Tock crocodile from “Peter Pan” and the unicorn from the tales of King Arthur. The villain there reveals his plans – for Folchart to bring into this world a truly terrifying monster from the pages of Inkheart – the Shadow.
Director Softley has things like Hackers and K-PAX to his credit, which doesn’t really tell you how he did here. Filming in the beautiful Italian Riviera, as well as the Bourne Woods of Surrey, the cinematography has an otherworldliness that compliments the mood of the novel nicely. While it follows the plot of the Cornelia Funke novel it’s based on nicely, the movie is a bit less grim than its literary counterpart.
Fraser has been a capable action hero ever since his work in The Mummy and is proving to be quite a draw for family films as he showed in Journey to the Center of the Earth. He is less dashing and less heroic than other characters he’s played; his Mortimer Folchart is handicapped by his own guilt, and in trying to be protective of his daughter, causes her more pain than perhaps was necessary. I personally would have liked to see there be more of a rift between them – it’s hard to believe a 12-year-old girl would be too forgiving of a father who kept her in the dark most of her life about what really happened to her mother.
The central character in the book is Meggie, and while she technically is here as well, this isn’t her movie. Bennett is better than average in her performance, but when contending with actors the caliber of Mirren, Broadbent, Bettany, Fraser and Serkis, someone a little more memorable might have been better. She’s supposed to be the focus of the movie but she is clearly out of her depth here, so by default it become’s Mortimer’s story.
My problem is that the writer gives these silvertongues immense power, but they rarely use it logically. Oh, when they’re forced to do it they can and will read things out of the classic stories, but for example when one silvertongue is imprisoned in a crypt with the Jim Broadbent character (who plays the author of Inkheart who is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block), while they are able to write all sorts of things for the silvertongue to read at the movie’s conclusion, they don’t think of writing something simple like “The locked door swung open of it’s own accord and the prisoners stepped out and escaped.” Of course, that would have made too much sense.
While the acting is top-notch, the special effects are nice and the scenery is beautiful, one of the problems I have is that this kind of movie needs a heart, something that will stay with the viewer long after they’ve gone home. Inkheart doesn’t have one. Bettany comes close, but his character is so weak-willed, and uses the excuse “I was written that way” to explain away his awful choices, so it becomes hard to root for him. Fraser is also curiously restrained; I think a little more Rick O’Connell might have served the movie better.
While this was ostensibly marketed for kids (and there were a bunch of them at the showing I attended), I wouldn’t characterize this strictly as a kid’s movie. Yes, the kids are going to enjoy this, but there is a great deal of violence and the Shadow is going to be far too scary for younger children. There is enough here, however, that make this a solid enough family movie that I can recommend without feeling guilty about it.
WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous scenery. Nice performances from the supporting roles. Nice fantasy action and a truly frightening villain.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lapses in logic. Some characters a bit too weak to really support. Lacks heart.
FAMILY VALUES: The Shadow is a bit much for younger children. There is also some violence, but all in all just fine for most kids.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Cornelia Funke wrote the part of Mo “Silvertongue” Folchert with Brendan Fraser in mind.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actress Eliza Bennett reads a passage from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Using “Reading Rainbow” style visuals as well as illustrations from the novel gives the sequence some visual kick.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen