FILM REVIEW: Inkheart

PG • 106 mins • 12 December

Director: Iain Softley

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Helen
Mirren, Eliza Bennett, Andy Serkis

Rating:

Well, here we go again. Big-budget Hollywood movies based on bestselling children’s books seem to be two-a-penny these days, be it the endless run of Potters, the latest Narnia
adaptation or a franchise-killer such as
The Golden Compass (and we’re not
even mentioning 2006’s Eragon out of
respect for anyone still experiencing
’Nam-style flashbacks after having
suffered through it). Inkheart is merely
the most recent in a long line of films to
prove that if a kid waits around long
enough they never have to read
anything – all they have to do is rent
the book in movie form from
Blockbuster. Although seeing as
Inkheart is all about the joys of reading,
that’s a rather ironic side-effect…

The story is adapted (fairly) faithfully
from the multi-million-selling book by
German author Cornelia Funke. It tells
the story of 12-year-old Meggie (Eliza
Bennett, who last popped up as one of
the kids in Nanny McPhee) and her
father, Mo (Brendan Fraser), as they
search for Meggie’s missing mother. Mo
has the ability to “read” characters out
of books and into the real world –
handy if they’re good guys, a bit of a
pisser if they’re the
evil winged
monkeys from The
Wizard Of Oz – and
accidentally trapped
his wife inside a
book named
Inkheart when
Meggie was little. Now he’s managed to
track down another copy and wants to
“read” her out again… but bad guy
Capricorn (Andy Serkis), once a
character in Inkheart but now living
quite happily here with us, will do
anything to harness Mo’s powers for
himself. Meanwhile, Mo and Meggie also
have to deal with Dustfinger (Paul
Bettany), a fire-eater trying to find his
way back into his book; Meggie’s
intrepid Great Aunt Eleanor (Helen
Mirren); Inkheart’s real-life author
Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent); and Farid
(Ravi Gavron), an Arab boy from
Arabian Nights who’s seriously out of
his depth in the 21st century.

From the above you’ve probably
already deduced that this is quite a
complicated film: as is often the way
with literary adaptations, there are too
many characters and plot threads on
display as the filmmakers try to
squeeze in every last line of the book.
What’s odd about Inkheart, though, is
that even as it does this it also wastes
vast amounts of time showing us
characters talking over what’s just
happened, or finding out things that we
already know. Far too much of the film is spent skulking around Capricorn’s
castle, too (by the end you’ll feel as
though you know every bloody inch)
and not enough on the father/daughter
relationship between Mo and Meggie,
which isn’t really sold by a bewildered looking
Fraser – his performance is so
restrained that it seems he’s thinking
about something else all the way through (his lunch? His outstanding DIY
jobs? Whether he’ll be starring in
Mummy movies until he dies?).
Bettany’s Dustfinger is a bit of a
disappointment as well: since when is a
fire-eating ferret-handler this dull?

It’s a good job that Mirren and
Broadbent are on fine form as the
oldies tagging along on the adventure,
and the finale is great fun, even if the
Big Bad does look suspiciously like a
Balrog. It’s just a pity that Inkheart
takes so long to get going – as far
as movies based on books about
books go, it’s anything but a pageturner.

Jayne Nelson