Inkheart is a fun little kids movie which has a couple of contradictions at its inky heart that it can never really shy away from. Oddly its the most British of the recent batch of fantasy films, despite being set in Europe and starring Brendan Fraser. Fraser’s Americaness is never really explained away despite being Helen Mirren’s nephew and having raised a daughter on his own who also has a cut glass English accent. But then this just goes to show how superfluous Fraser’s character Mortimer is (MORTIMER – that’s a nice American name). In the film Mortimer is a Silvertounge, someone who can read characters out of books into reality. The downside is that something real goes back into the books. So he accidentally reads out a dastardly villain from the book Inkheart and reads his wife into a book which then – for plot purposes – he loses. Long search for said book ensues, and we come in about ten years later when the daughter is old enough to be an interesting character herself. What follows is the baddie capturing and letting escape various members of the central party, who then split up to rescue or get caught ad infinitum. An Arabian night or two later we come to the denouement where it is discovered that the daughter has also inherited this power. Leaving a finale where the daughter does all the action and Fraser flounders simpering at his previously missing (into a book) wife. How the mighty have fallen. It doesn’t help that unlike his usual disbelieving outsider, he is in on the magic. Jim Broadbent and Mirren get the outsider roles which one assumes would have been more fun in the book by Cornelia Funke, than clogging up the screen here (though both are always good grumpy value).
So the existence of Fraser weakens the film, as does his inability to consider how to use his power to help them. In the denouement, his daughter learns to write and then read*, thus neutralising her enemies in one pen stroke. But isn’t that a bit obvious? Indeed the summoned up creatures of fiction add up to:
one ticking crocodile
one of the forty thieves
Toto from the Wizard of Oz.
I’m just thinking a quick trip to a comic shop could aid you in conjuring up powerful allies. Nevertheless all of this is in aid of a nicely puritan message that book are really exciting. Look how exciting they are, look what its like when they come to life. To which a child might add that it is a bit like a derivative kids action movie. Indeed it has the same fundamental problem as The Last Action Hero, both try to celebrate the power of the imagination and their relative artforms (books and films), and create a slightly lacklustre book and film in the process. A film telling you how awesome books are via the medium of special effects seems a bit counter productive. Unless, and we go back to the Britishness of the film, the effects and so on seem a bit cheap. At least then it can suggest that books are awesome because the special effects budget in your head is unlimited**.
*Those who are aware of the game dirty crossword, will be delighted that in the finale Jim Broadbent bellows across to the empowered youngster “WRITE, DON’T READ”.
** An argument I always said phooey too, as I lack a very visual imagination and tend to imagine an explosion as the words “an explosion” coupled with the knowledge of the kind of damage it might do. The fireballs in my head are rubbish.