Posted on June 16, 2009 at 8:00 am

Inkheart is a best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke about the power of reading. There is something truly meta-magical about reading a book about reading a book, with a character who brings book characters to life. And no matter how creative the visuals, it is inevitably less magical when it leaves the world of words and imagination for the world of pixels and screens.

Brendan Fraser plays Mortimer, who is not just a book doctor (restorer of old tomes) but something of a book whisperer. At least, books seem to whisper to him. And he is a “silvertongue,” which means that when he reads a book aloud he has the power to call its characters into being. But he has no control of this power. He is as likely to bring to life a wicked character as a good one. And in order to maintain balance, when he brings a character out of a book, a real-life character gets swooshed into the book. When he was reading a book called Inkheart, characters named Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and Capricorn (Andy Serkis) came out and Mortimer’s wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) went in. Now she is stuck there until he can find the book again and try to bring her back. So, he and his daughter Maggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) are constantly on the road, searching bookstores and trying to stay away from Dustfinger, who wants to be read back into his book so he can be with his family, and Capricorn, who wants more characters read out of the book so they can help him to enjoy life in our world (he is very fond of duct tape) and create all kinds of misery and oppression (he was written as a bad guy, after all).

The story shimmers with imaginative details. A stuttering silvertongue produces incomplete real-world characters with book text on their faces. Mortimer’s aunt Elinor (Oscar-winner Helen Mirren) has a fabulous library and vastly prefers books to people. She has a sign with “Don’t Even Think of Wasting My Time!” in three languages on her front gate. And when it is time to search for the author of the book “Inkheart” (played by James Broadbent), there are some lovely and subtle variations on the theme of reality vs. fantasy. Fraser is as always an appealing leading man and the trio of British stars bring wit and conviction to their off-beat characters — so much conviction, in fact, that they throw things a little out of balance. The story itself makes an uneasy transition to screen, the very books-and-words premise of the story in effect undercutting its translation to film. The story’s silvertongue may bring books to life but the director and screenwriter are less effective.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy

6 Replies to “Inkheart”

  1. FYI: When Funke wrote the book, she wrote it with Brendan Fraser in mind. It was a VERY good book. I’m really looking forward to seeing this movie, even if you only give it a B. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much, bkwyrm (excellent screen name!). I understand Funke even dedicated one of her books to Fraser, who is one of my favorite actors. Let me know what you think when you see the movie!

  3. Wow! A movie that my 10-year old son and his friend enjoyed that didn’t have any scenes including flatulence or other bodily functions! Yeah! In all seriousness – I’ve seen that this movie has received extremely mixed reviews. I’ve read all three books, and I have to say I loved the movie! The casting was perfect (with the exception of the Magpie – I hadn’t envisioned her quite so “Sweeney Todd”). There was enough storyline to keep adults engrossed, enough action (and mythical creatures) to keep the boys entertained, and lots of beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way. While there was some darkness and violence, it wasn’t too extreme. And any adult who thinks Brendan Fraser can’t act – all I can say is “Gods and Monsters”. A great family movie for kids who are feeling like they’ve outgrown the animated kiddie movies.

  4. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the film. Your comment is wonderful and it will be very helpful to parents thinking about whether this film is right for their families. It is a very classy movie and I hope it finds a broad audience.

  5. My wife and I saw this movie this past weekend and I have to say we both felt the same way, it seemed way too long, even though it was only 2 hours long. We felt like we lost 4 hours of our lives! We both enjoyed the first part, but the idea just didn’t continue to evolve and take advantage of what could have been a really intriguing film. There were some pretty bad writing failures, especially at the end when a statement is made (plot spoiler) that should have made ALL of the book characters return to their respective books, however inexplicably, two remain (very conveniently for the plot, but not for anyone who’s been paying attention). Also, why would all of the locked up creatures decide to only attack the bad guys at the end of not everyone? How did Brendan Fraser’s wife lose her voice and somehow come back out of the book when another sliver tongue reads? We were all prepared to be thoroughly entertained by this potentially wonderful movie, but came away with far less than we hoped for. I think the movie Stardust was a far superior film. I’d love to see this sort of plot line tried again with better writers and someone who knows how to keep track of what is and is not consistent in a story-line.

  6. Thanks, JR! I agree the movie was a very uneasy translation to the screen. I suppose that’s just additional proof of its main premise about the singular power of the written word!

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