INKHEART is a film you may not have heard much about because it was rather unceremoniously released into theaters in January, 2009. Even if you’ve heard about it, the odds are mighty high that you missed its brief theatrical engagement—which managed to eke out only $17,303,424 at the domestic box-office. Well, you wouldn’t be alone; we originally missed it too. But we did take the opportunity of its DVD release on June 22, 2009 to catch up with it.
INKHEART, based on Cornelia Funke’s New York Times bestselling children’s book by the same name, is in a similar category as films like BEDTIME STORIES and IMAGINE THAT; however, though it is certainly flawed, it has more going for it in terms of ambition and imagination. It is a film I wanted to like more as I watched it, yet I simply could not, due to its weaknesses in the telling of its tale and some of its rather uninspired characterizations.
INKHEART involves a father named Mo (Brendan Fraser) and his young daughter Meggie (newcomer, Eliza Bennett) who are gifted with “Silvertongues,” meaning that when they read aloud, the characters they read about come alive within the real world. The main catch is that when one comes over from the world of the written page someone from our world is automatically transported to the other. This is what happens to Mo’s beloved wife (Sienna Guillory). Now, this is a big issue and I couldn’t help wondering how Mo didn’t learn of his ability and its consequences before reaching the age of adulthood—though I suspect we’re supposed to believe that he never read out loud until he fathered a child.
Unfortunately, the novel that Mo read is purloined by a baddie named Capricorn (Andy Serkis, the man behind the movements of Gollum and King Kong), whom Mo read into our world. Copies of the book quickly become very rare because Capricorn likes the new world in which he finds himself and sees it as ripe for the picking. The task at hand for Mo is to get his hands on a copy of the book, so he can attempt to read his wife out and those who don’t belong here back in. But Capricorn has reading plans of his own for Mo. He wants him to read out a dark creature known as the Shadow to help him in his plans for conquest. This, of course, creates a bit of a sticky wicket for our hero and his daughter, not to mention the whole of the known world.
It is a bit of a sad experience viewing INKHEART on one hand, because one can sense the lost possibilities in it. As filmed, the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (ROBOTS, the upcoming SPIDER-MAN 4) lacks any true spicy punch and is generally too lackluster, given the subject matter.
Then there are the characters. Andy Serkis had the potential to shine as the villain, but he was saddled with what chiefly amounted to underdevelopment and throw-away lines. Unfortunately, the same can generally be said for Helen Mirren (NATIONAL TREASURE 2, THE QUEEN) as Maggie’s aunt. She is a very stalwart actress and should have been given more than she received.
And there are several flaws in logic, such as Mo (who is a well-known ‘book doctor’) seeming to have never thought about seeking out the author—or the Internet, for that matter—in order to acquire a copy of the elusive book until Meggie suggests it to him.
Then we have the author, who lives in a beautifully quaint section of Italy and happens to be baking a cake when we meet him, essentially claiming that the worlds he creates are more beautiful and less vicious than reality. Really? That’s an interesting observation, given terribly dark characters like Capricorn, his evil henchmen, and the Shadow, who seem bent on complete control of their world, which is to say, the author’s world. We’re all searching for something better than what is, but we shouldn’t try to deceive ourselves, or others. There are plenty of little things like these to grate on one’s sense of believability.
Yet at the same time there are positive elements that one is able to enjoy. For instance, Eliza Bennett is a new, young talent who grasped her part and delivered on it. Like little Yara Shahidi in IMAGINE THAT, her character traits are pleasant and her relationship with her father is a loving, positive one.
Brendan Fraser, whom I don’t usually take to, was more subdued and in control than I am accustomed to seeing him (GODS AND MONSTER’S not withstanding). So, though I wondered what someone like Johnny Depp (with a better script) would have done with the part, I wasn’t really irritated by what Frasier spun into the piece. Still, he really blew a couple of important moments in my opinion.
Fortunately, Paul Bettany (the upcoming IRON MAN 2, A BEAUTIFUL MIND and the magnificent MASTER AND COMMANDER) is always a grounded performer, and he delivers with what he has to work with here as well. Jim Broadbent (HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, INDIANA JONES AND THE KNGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL) does satisfactory work as the author who is absorbed in his own little world.
However, what I may have been drawn to most was the fact that the film was largely shot in older sections of Europe, and this treated us to some very interesting and picturesque locations. Roger Pratt’s (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, SHADOWLANDS) cinematography, in another big plus, was lush and quite effective in flushing out the historic quality of the locations—he illuminated them as if they were each aching to tell of their own colorful pasts. He also captured affectively the fantasy element of the film. The visuals and set design were handled nicely too. It all led to a sense that the film should have been grander.
Having said that, it still needs to be pointed out that Director Iain Softley (K-PAX, THE SKELETON KEY) didn’t project a sense of having a solid handle on the story, the adventure within it, or an appropriate pace and mood for it. In the end I was left wondering what might have been, given a better script, another lead actor and a director more along the lines of David Fincher. One thing’s for sure – it would have been less a simplistic, normal children’s film and more like a Grimm’s fairy tale. And thus, preferable, to my way of thinking.
DVD AND BLU-RAY FEATURES
The single-disc DVD has only one special feature: Young Eliza Bennett reading her favorite passage from Cornelia Funke’s book.
The film is also available as a two-disc combo pack: Disc One offers the film on Blu-ray; Disc Two provides a DVD copy and a down-loadable digital copy. The Blu-ray disc is BD Live-enabled, with the following features:
The Story with the Cast & Crew is a short HD video that has those involved with the film riffing on a fairy tale, everyone contributing a line to the story.
- From Imagination to the Pageis an HD featurette on Cornelia Funke, author of the book on which the film is based.
- Eliza Reads to Us (HD) features actress Eliza Hope Bennett (who plays Maggie in the film) reading an excerpt from the source novel.
- 9 Deleted Scenes offers 14 minutes of footage in Standard Definition.
INKHEART (New Line Cinema, 2009; 103 min.) Directed by Iain Softley. Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire’s. Based on the book by Cornelia Funke. Produced by Iain Softley, Diana Pokorny, and Cornelia Funke. Executive Produced by Toby Emmerich, Mark Ordesky, Ileen Maisel, and Andy Licht. Cinematography by Roger Pratt. Production Design by John Beard. Costumes by Verity Hawkes. Special Effects Supervision by Paul Corbould. Visual Effects Supervision by Angus Bickerton, Ryan Cook, John Paul DochertyAdam Gascoyne, and Richard Higham. Edited By Martin Walsh. Music by Javier Navarrete. Cast: Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Eliza Hope Bennett, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Sienna Guillory, Matt King, Steve Spears, Rafi Gavron, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Foreman, Stephen Graham, John Thomson, Lesley Sharp, Jennifer Connelly (in a cameo), and Roger Allam (the Narrator). MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language.