11 April 2009

Movie Review: Inkheart


B-

Inkheart
2008, 105mins, PG
Director: Iain Softley
Writer (s): David Lindsay Abaire, Cornelia Funke (novel)
Cast includes: Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Sienna Guillory, Jim Broadbent
Release Date: 23rd January 2009


Adaptations of fantasy seem to rarely be worth the celluloid their printed on, leaving aside Peter Jacksons “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy it’s hard enough to think of any recent contributions to the genre that steer close to being watchable. “The Golden Compass” at least was a noble failure but other barrel scraping fare like “Eragon” and “The Dark is Rising” make me think that more artistic credibility goes into the advertising than the motion picture. “Inkheart” is the latest bestseller to get a cinematic counterpart within the stinky sub-genre, but low and behold it’s actually quite a decent attempt. Iain Softley’s version of Cornelia Funke’s book isn’t perfect but at least on the level of modestly effective entertainment it seems to work.

Mo Falchart (Brendan Fraser) and his daughter Maggie (Eliza Bennett) are travelers who move from place to place in search of rare books. Maggie believes this is because her father’s profession entails such roaming expeditions but the real reason is quite different. Mo is a silvertongue, or someone who when reading aloud can move things in and out of the book in question. 12 years ago Mo read a book named “Inkheart” to his wife, and as a result he brought out numerous characters and tragically sent her in. Now he spends his days trying to find a copy of the rare and much sought after text, in the hope that he can finally retrieve his wife from the fantastical book in which she is trapped. Whilst in Italy Mo finally lands himself a copy of the book, only for Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) to show up and plead with Mo to return him to its pages. Dustfinger was one of the more morally upstanding characters that Mo drew out upon reading the book, and all he wants to do is return to his world and be once again reunited with his wife. Mo fearfully refuses and Dustfinger in desperation turns to Cornelius (Andy Serkis) a snide and nasty character also pulled from the pages of “Inkheart”. Cornelius and Dustfinger cut a deal; if the latter can lead Cornelius to the capture of Mo then he’ll force the man to read Dustfinger back into the book. Thus begins an adventure as Mo and Maggie are captured only to narrowly escape, yet ironically are given reason to once again return to Cornelius realm for a literature fuelled climax.

In terms of scope and plotting “Inkheart” is a more minor fantasy story, it doesn’t entail much globetrotting, features a compact and small set of key characters and ultimately works out to be a speedy and straight narrative. Whilst this slightly less ambitious scale means it never gets close to Peter Jackson levels of fantasy cinema it does allow the film to maintain a clear and concise plot and to be easily and effectively condensed into an average length feature. In comparison to something that aimed for the same runtime but was cut to ribbon as a consequence (“Eragon” is the most awful and befitting example of this) “Inkheart” comes up quite nicely and makes for far more palatable viewing.

The performances are solid if not particularly outstanding, coming of a horrible 2008 Brendan Fraser manages to banish “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” with his agreeable hero on show here. Mo makes for a pleasant and sympathetic hero who is always more concerned with the safety of friends and family rather than beating up enemies and quipping in the aftermath. This good guy personality coupled with Fraser’s neat charisma make him a leading man worth routing for. As his daughter Eliza Bennett is a little amateurish in places but does show promise, she may not be of Dakota Fanning quality yet but that’s not to say she’ll never be. It’s easy to see when a child actor comes onboard and is simply never going to be cut out for this line of work but that’s not the case with Bennett. She’s a little rough around the edges but with more practice and good direction those could quickly be smoothed. In the support cast Helen Mirren and Bettany are adequate as Maggie’s preachy aunt and Dustfinger respectively, whilst there also are amusing supporting roles for Jim Broadbent and Steve Speirs. Sienna Guillory on the other hand is predictably weak as Mo’s lost wife and Andy Serkis happily vamps it up as the villainous Cornelius. He’s never that scary but as an actor Serkis is never less than watchable and here is no exception.

The film is directed by Iain Softley a workmanlike shooter with pictures both good and bad on his CV. His weaker films tend not to be anything worse than inoffensively bland but his better films lack the visual imagination to push them into greatness. Softley gamely uses the $60 million budget to good effect with a few well paced and nicely scaled set pieces, whilst allowing the film to move at a fairly rollicking pace. Still even at a reasonably taut 105 minutes “Inkheart” does suffer from an exposition heavy and occasionally disengaged middle section, a critical hit to what is otherwise a pretty decent film. One suspects Softley could have edited 10 minutes and one character out of “Inkheart” and still ended up with a perfectly serviceable result, but sadly the fact laden in-between damages the picture to a degree that it drops several cuts below excellence.

The CGI in “Inkheart” is mostly acceptable and the brash and fun conclusion wraps things up to a satisfying degree, I imagine fans of Funke’s source where pretty pleased with Softley’s filmed version. The uninitiated will likely struggle to take to it on the same level but there is little point in denying that it doesn’t combine enough action and winsome fantasy to at least offer an enjoyable time. Imperfect as it is, I can see quite a lot to like in “Inkheart”.



A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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