2009, PG, 106 min. Directed by Iain Softley. Starring Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 23, 2009
Consider the written word and its myriad powers: to educate; inspire; open doorways within the human mind that, often, forever alter the life of the reader; and, of course, entertain. German author Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, a fantasy adventure in the vein of Neil Gaiman's Stardust or C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, has been translated into 27 languages and found a comfy home in the young-adult section of libraries the world over. I haven't read it yet, but after watching Softley's rollicking, overstuffed, but enormously entertaining adaptation, it's now at the top of my list. Both the book and film revolve around a family of humans – "Silvertongues" in the parlance of the film – who unknowingly have the power to bring to life the characters in the books they read aloud. This brings inadvertent disaster to the Folchart family when antiquarian book doctor Mo (Fraser) reads the titular novel Inkheart to his wife, Resa (Guillory), and baby daughter, Meggie (Bennett). For every character that is read into our world, a human being is sucked into the world of the book, and thus Resa vanishes, replaced by the grinningly evil Capricorn (Peter Jackson mainstay Serkis) and his thuggish, illiterate minions – among them Basta (Foreman, of Layer Cake), as well as a selfish but potentially heroic fire juggler by the name of Dustfinger (Bettany). Thus begins a quest by the remaining Folcharts to locate another copy of Inkheart in the hope that they will be able to read Resa out of it and back into reality while simultaneously dispatching the villains. Along the way, Helen Mirren, a unicorn, L. Frank Baum's flying monkeys, and a minotaur arrive, vying for viewer attention; the ever-regal Mirren bests them all, which will come as no surprise to fans. Softley, who previously helmed the semicult hit Hackers back in the day and has since been known primarily for his music-video work, does an admirable job imbuing the world of Inkheart with just the right amount of fantastic detail, right down to Capricorn's Escher-esque castle. Director of photography Roger Pratt makes the most of the sumptuous locations. Inkheart was shot in and around Liguria on the Italian Riviera, and it looks absolutely ravishing. But the most resonant and, frankly, wonderful aspect of the film is its unabashed love for books and the wonders to be found within. Sequences of Capricorn's mishapen toadies (they were read into unfinished life by a stutterer) as they set fire to the Folchart's beloved library of first editions elicit a true pang of horror and are mirrored by the protagonists' unlabored love of the written word. Inkheart's core message – that reading and writing books are noble pursuits and, indeed, sacred duties – may seem obvious to adults but is, let's face it, growing ever less so to post-millennial youth. There's nothing as fine in this world as the musty scent of an old book, well read and cherished, and Inkheart knows this to be true and tries, in its fantastic way, to pass that love along to future readers, writers, and lovers of the well-told tale.