Dir. Iain Softley. Ger/UK/US. 2008, 106 mins.
A long, long time in the releasing - first it swerved The Golden Compass, then was caught in the New Line merger - fantasy adventure Inkheart chases down the Stardust/Princess Bride audience, with a bit of bibliophile Nim's Island thrown in to the mix. Old-fashioned and often awkward - a turbaned Helen Mirren saving the day on a unicorn won't be a clip she treasures - this could generate small measures of excitement among the Narnia crowd but word of mouth in the key teen demographic probably won't be stellar (Inkheart is long on locations, low on effects).
Inkheart is about the power of books and the imagination, and words sometimes fail it in the translation to the big screen, particularly during the finale. But even if it's no theatrical blockbuster, Inkheart's ancillary should be healthy, and fans of Cornelia Funke's novel will give it ample traction internationally.
Despite its myriad locations, at heart there's something very British, very Bedknobs And Broomsticks about Softley's vision, and Inkheart goes out first in the UK where it could find its most receptive home.
Fraser plays Mortimer 'Mo' Folchart, a bookworm with a rare talent - he's a 'Silvertongue' who can bring characters on the page alive simply by reading aloud. But whenever he does this, a real person disappears in its pages, and that's why his wife Resa (Guillory) is lost to Mo and his daughter Meggie (Bennett) - she's trapped inside Inkheart, a novel written by Fenoglio (Broadbent). And Inkheart's evil villain, Capricorn (Serkis) and sidekick Basta (Foreman),are loose in the real world along with Dustfinger (Bettany), a homesick fire-eater.
When Mo finds a long-lost copy of Inkheart, everybody wants it for their own purposes, and he flees to his great-aunt Elinor's (Mirren) Italian home with Meggie to ponder his next move.
Inkheart spends a lot of time flitting between locations before finally settling on a mountaintop castle lair where Capricorn has established a mini-empire. Initially it's a promising set-up, with flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz (there's even a tornado and Toto) and recreations of 1001 Arabian Nights and a whole world of imagination to explore. Bit by bit, however, Inkheart gets backed into a very moribund soundstage finale with loose ends either rapidly wrapped or abandoned entirely. Apart from that - and it's a glaring problem - technical credits here are fine for the genre.
Inkheart's cast is commercially attractive, with Paul Bettany (adopting an odd accent) giving Brendan Fraser added headline heft (Bettany's wife Jennifer Connelly appears in the briefest of cameos). Fraser is a safe bet in this type of child-friendly adventure, with this summer's Journey To The Centre of the Earth taking $218m worldwide, and Mirren in the Angela Lansbury role will appeal to parents (as will the whole subject matter of reading). Softley has found an appealing child actress in Eliza Hope Bennett, playing Fraser's 12-year-old daughter, who is fresh and unaffected and more than holds her own.
New Line Cinema
Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird (co-producer)
David Lindsay Abaire
From the novel by Cornelia Funke
Eliza Hope Bennett