Inkheart interview (Brendan Fraser)

Making a movie about the power of books puts a filmmaker in a very peculiar place. Now, more than ever, technology allows writers and directors to realize any landscape, monster or spaceship that crosses their mind in vivid detail, even in modestly budgeted films. At the same time, some parents are concerned that the instant gratification these movies provide will make kids less inclined to invest their time in reading.

Inkheart, based on the first in a trilogy of young adult novels by German author Cornelia Funke, tries to strike a balance between the whiz-bang special effects that audiences crave and a real, genuine affection for classic stories. From focusing on a bookbinder as the main character, to portraying the destruction of a library as high tragedy, it seems like the kind of film that genuinely could inspire a new generation of bibliophiles.

“It doesn’t wag a finger at you,” says Inkheart star Brendan Fraser over the phone from a press junket in Toronto. “It doesn’t condescend to you, either. And I think that’s for the very simple reason that Cornelia understands, to the young mind, you can’t pull the wool over them.”

Fraser plays Mo Folchart, an antique bookbinder with a voice that brings stories to life. When he reads aloud, characters and objects leap from the pages and into our world. After reading a book called Inkheart, Mo accidentally summons a villain who puts his family, and maybe the entire world, in danger. Unlike in a lot of overly sanitized kids’ movies, Inkheart’s villains are actually intimidating, and a monster introduced late in the film is dark enough to give nightmares to some wee ones. According to Fraser, though, there’s nothing wrong with giving kids the occasional scare.

“That’s the reason why we have always had the so-called fairy tale,” Fraser says. “It teaches you without knowing you’re being taught something, that there’s good, there’s evil, there’s up and down. It lets children know, rather than just being cautionary tales or life lessons per se, about what to do and not to do. It lets them know that there is a place for imagination.”

Still, Fraser admits that the darker side of the movie might turn off some viewers. To him, it was more important to keep the story in line with the classic fairy tales and novels it draws from than to make something completely safe.

“This is not a picture that’s made to be mass-consumed, or a confection, like it’s easily digestable,” he says. “At the same time, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be popular. It appeals [because] it doesn’t talk over the heads of its audience. It includes them. It challenges them.”

Challenging audiences can lead to a quick trip to the bottom of the box office, and for a film based on the first episode in a trilogy, this can be particularly threatening. Though it’s technically only an adaptation of the first book, Inkheart’s ending draws from the book’s sequel to make a tidier conclusion. Fans of the book might question the decision, but Fraser says the reasoning is simple.

“The very short and honest answer to that is, the bottom dollar in this economy,” he says. “I hate to say it, but it’s the truth. If the audience wants, the audience gets. If they see this and they go to it, and there’s an appetite for more, we’ll do [the sequels]. I do promise you that, given that it’s a trilogy, in my view, the real, interesting story happens in the second book.”

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