There are few things on this planet that are more powerful and influential than a good book. Unfortunately, Inkheart leans on this belief with such fervor that it completely isolates itself from both the film’s characters and even the audience. For a movie that is based on a series of successful children’s novels, it seems to have forgotten at some point that the purpose of telling a story is to inspire one’s imagination.
Instead, ‘Inkheart’ relies on sub-par digital effects, a cast of uninteresting actors and countless stolen literary references in its attempt to sell to an unsuspecting public what amounts to little more than a ‘Harry Potter’-stopgap. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. This is January after all.
Inkheart is based on the Inkworld trilogy of novels by German author Cornelia Funke. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I haven’t yet read these books. Not that this lack of preparation would matter much when it comes to digesting the story that is presented onscreen by director Iaian Softley. As the movie begins, we are introduced to Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser), a ‘Silvertongue’ who possesses the power of bringing the stories he reads to life. Mo’s tales literally leap off the page, as his voice conjures characters from out of the storybook world and into our own. However, every unworldly talent comes with its price, and Mo’s is a hefty one. We soon learn that for every character that he is able to bring to life, an unknown person from his world must be exiled into the story he reads. This eye-for-an-eye method of bringing balance to both worlds causes chaos as Mo’s wife Riesa (Sienna Guillory) becomes unwittingly transported into the book Inkheart at the same time that the villainous Capricorn (Andy Serkis) is brought forth by Mo’s reading.
Indeed this premise sounds promising. On one hand we have Capricorn, layed with devilish glee by Andy Serkis, who views our world as one that is rife with riches, servants and a population that he can most certainly bend to his whim. On the other is Fraser’s Silvertongue, who only wants to read his wife out of the pages of Inkheart and back into his arms. Between these two opposing forces is a cast of characters that play all too familiar roles. Meggie Folchart (Eliza Bennett) is Mo’s teenage daughter, who learns something important (she’s a Silvertongue too) and doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) is the story’s anti-hero, whose selfishness continuously places the rest of the ‘good guys’ in danger and ultimate redemption comes in an entirely expected and uninteresting manner. Helen Mirren appears as Elinor Loredan, Meggie’s arrogant grandmother and next to Serkis’ Capricorn, is the only other remotely interesting character in the film.
Despite a deceptively talented cast and a premise whose very nature resonates with anyone who has ever picked up a book, Inkheart fails to deliver on any amount of originality and threatens to undermine its very existence. Brendan Fraser, an actor who has been a guilty pleasure of many fans, has never been more vapid or listless than he is playing the role of Mo Folchart. It’s as if someone dressed up a film-school intern in a full body Brendan Fraser suit and promised them extra credit if they would shuffle around the set reading random chapters from a book in a monotone voice and looking sullen-eyed. Conversely, Andy Serkis relishes every moment he is onscreen and makes us wish that Capricorn really would create a world in which he would rule over all, because it would be vastly cooler than the one we are presented in Inkheart.
This film relentlessly hammers into you the notion that books are powerful things. We see people’s lives controlled through the reading of a passage. We witness the conjuring of some of the most famous characters in literary history. Books are inserted into every nuance of the characters in Inkheart and when those books are read, destroyed or used for evil; the results are both glorious and deadly. Through all of this, I couldn’t help to think that this story would have been much better if it had just stayed within the pages of Funke’s Inkworld trilogy. In the hands of Iain Softley, something very important from Inkworld has been lost and what remains is nothing more than the waste of a perfectly good story.
Essentially, you only need to know two things about Inkheart before plopping down your ten bucks to witness it in theaters. First, the film is filled with more literary references than you can shake your leather-bound copy of Lord of the Rings at. Toto, Hook’s crocodile, Rapunzel, flying monkeys and even a Balrog (albeit unintentional) all make their appearance in Inkheart, which provides just enough distraction at times to make you forget that the film you are watching really isn’t that interesting. Second, the film really is based on a very successful series of books. Knowing this, wouldn’t it make more sense to take that cash and pick up a few of the books that clearly inspired this… er, interpretation? I’d say so, and I think Baum, Barrie, Tolkien and maybe even Cornelia Funke might all agree.