Inkheart – review

The latest attempt to turn kid-lit hits into box office gold, Inkheart occupies a comfortable middle ground onscreen. Based on the first in a trilogy of novels by Cornelia Funke, it is less epic than The Chronicles of Narnia, less sprawling than Harry Potter and has significantly fewer lovelorn vampires than Twilight. Still, what Inkheart’s middle-of-the-road sensibility lacks in marketability, it makes up in imagination.

Family action mainstay Brendan Fraser is Mo Folchart, a bookbinder who is also a “silvertongue,” gifted/cursed with the ability to bring objects and characters out of books when he reads them aloud. After disaster strikes while reading a book called (you guessed it) Inkheart, Fraser dedicates his life to finding another copy of the book and righting the wrongs he’s set in motion. Naturally, this will involve coming to terms with the mistakes of the past, thwarting a medieval rogue with delusions of grandeur and doing battle with a giant, evil demon-cloud.

Though the premise lends itself to a gleeful plundering of literary classics, Inkheart is actually fairly tactful when it comes to dredging up beloved characters. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen showed exactly how roundly Hollywood can ruin even the best reimaginings of literature’s greatest hits, so it’s reassuring when Inkheart limits itself mostly to animals — a ticking crocodile, some winged monkeys, Toto. Aside from residents of Inkheart’s book-within-a-film, the only human to be drawn out of the literary world is one of the thieves from 1,001 Arabian Nights (Rafri Gavron), who pops up when the evil Capricorn (Andy Serkis) tries to get rich quick with some buried treasure.

The film lives on the strength of its bit players. Jim Broadbent is great as Inkheart’s wide-eyed author, amazed to see even his most menacing characters come to life. Helen Mirren relishes the role of Fraser’s aunt, a charmingly bitter recluse who spends her time in a well-stocked library, though she naturally warms up by the film’s end. The Italian landscapes are practically a character in themselves, and are well-suited to the story’s fairy tale elements.

Though it’s entertaining throughout, Inkheart loses steam in its last act. As the story builds to its inevitable climax, plot elements get rushed and characters go through the motions to reach the obligatory happy ending. The script borrows elements from the second Inkheart book in order to wrap things up a little more tightly, and while it makes for a more complete film, it makes things overly convoluted. Given how well the rest of the film skirts the typical book adaptation pitfalls, it’s a shame to see it stumble at the finish line.

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