Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Mondays - Inkheart

What might happened if reading a book out loud brought its characters to life? Would it be incredibly cool, or would disaster ensue?

Me? I'm going with the incredibly cool option. My apartment literally hemorrhages books and that's before accounting for the bulging boxes in my closet. If you were to ask me what resonates most about my favorite stories (all 200 or so of them) regardless of venue (movie, book, tall tale), I'd immediately say the characters. Strong characterization makes or breaks any story. So the idea of a silvertongue who can bring characters to literal life simply by reading out loud from a book is really just delicious.

Imagine having tea with Elizabeth Bennett. Or riding on Aslan's back. Or anything regarding Aragon (much of which probably couldn't be printed here.) Possibilities abound. But what if instead of Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennett shrieked to life? Or if the White Witch came off the page sans Aslan? What would happen if, in lieu of Aragon, orcs and goblins came to life instead?

This is the story of Inkheart. Things get a little meta if you look too closely. Inkheart the movie about a book called Inkheart that comes to life, is adapted from Inkheart the book by German writer Cornelia Funke about a book called Inkheart that comes to life. Follow? Yeah, took me a minute too.

In Inkheart the movie, Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a book doctor specializing in antique tomes. He is also Silvertongue, a man able to read characters from books to life. Mo first learns of this double-edged talent when while reading to his baby daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), several unsavory characters from the novel Inkheart come into his living room from out of the book - while his wife Ressa (Sienna Guillroy) is sucked into it.

Twelve years later, Mo travels Europe repairing antique books, always searching for another copy of Inkheart (his was stolen by the bad guys) that he might read Reesa back into the real world. He and the unsuspecting and uninformed Meggie are pursued by Capricorn (Andy Serkis, formerly Gollum from LOTR) the big bad that emerged from Inkheart all those years ago. Capricorn wants Mo to read his dark master to life so they might take over this world. This dark master is called The Shadow and if your mind immediately went to "only The Shadow knows" then you and I are in the same slightly off-kilter place.

As our story begins, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) a fire juggler who also came out of the book that fateful night, has located Mo. Dustfinger longs for Mo to read him back into the book and will do anything - and betray anyone - to make that happen.

And we're off to the races.

Inkheart the movie isn't perfect. There are several plot holes. Why did Mo never think to visit the book's author until Meggie mentions it? And if someone has to go into the book when someone else comes out, who exactly has been sucked into what book as Capricorn has had another imperfect silvertongue reading his fiends to life for years?

The movie also get a little cartoonish in execution. Serkis enjoys more than one scenery chewing turn, though he is still incredibly effective with the creepy when he really wants to be. The story cribs here and there from Tolkein and Lewis, not to mention the overt allusions to Baum's Wizard of Oz that were wholly incorporated into the plot. But imitation...flattery...etc. Still, some aspects of the film were at times just too convenient or conventional.

And I don't care one bit. I had a blast with this movie. My total delight in the concept carried me straight into a willing suspension of disbelief that extended to any cinematic hiccups.

I simply gorged on the sumptuous scenery of the Italy with its mountains and riviera. Then there was the cast; only a Harry Potter film could envision a better roster. Helen Mirren puts her classy two cents in as eccentric Aunt Elinor whose (but of course) lakeside Italian villa is filled with priceless books she treasures as old friends. The delectable Jim Broadbent adds his indubitable charm to the proceedings as the eccentric author of Inkheart (the book inside the movie, not the author of the actual source material. Srsly, a flow chart would have been a good idea here), though he does take a little too long to figure out that his all too real characters are three dimensions of dangerous. But his glee at seeing his creation viscerally brought to life is enchanting. What a total trip that would be for any writer.

Paul Bettany is, as always, an acting treasure. He gives life and layers to Dustfinger that far outstretch the limits of the film. (In another, less confusing, meta moment, Bettany's wife, actress Jennifer Connelly, shows up in brief flashbacks as Dustfinger's mate.)

My favorite moment, though, was in the bowels of Capricorn's castle, when Mo and Meggie are lead past all the creatures Capricorn's imitation silvertongue has read to flawed life. Flying monkeys, a unicorn, the minotaur...a zoo full of mythical creatures that made me feel like I was among old, somewhat psychotic, friends.

The big finale fully delivers even with its blatant homage to Sauron and the LOTR series. I was significantly involved to yell at the screen for Meggie to stop gaping and get on with the reading already! And the HEA feels well earned by those characters who get to experience it.

If reading is fundamental, then imagination is quite simply essential. Books put the imagination to flight and this is amply evident in Inkheart a story where imagination quite simply changed the world.

Inkheart rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments, and brief language, something that never appears on this blog.

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