Word Made Reality: 'Inkheart' Review
Before I even get into the film adaptation of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, there's a question that nagged at me while I watched the film: whatever happened to Brendan Fraser? Not only was he the lead of one of my favorite late 90's films The Mummy but he is also an incredibly charismatic leading man in his right. For some reason, after the second Mummy film, he went into cinematic hiding, showing up once or twice a year in movies that were vastly beneath his level namely films such as Furry Vengeance or Journey to the Center of the Earth, the latter of which he was replaced by the Rock when the sequel was released. Inkheart, however, is not one of those films; it's surprisingly good in a "how had I never heard of this movie before" way.
The film follows Fraser as Mortimer Folchart, a bookbinder, who has the fantastical ability that allows him to will characters from books into existence just by reading them. He is looking for the lost copy of the book Inkheart along with his daughter Meggie since he believes it is the key to finding his long-lost wife. He hits a snag after finding the book as he is kidnapped by fictional character Dustfinger, played by Paul Bettany, who delivers him to the nefarious Inkheart villain Capricorn, played by the scene-chewing CGI-less Andy Serkis. Folchart, his daughter, and Meggie's great aunt Elinor, the incomparable Helen Mirren, must then figure out a way to defeat Capricorn and save his wife. It's a novel take on an idea that has been played around with in fantasy before.
The performances are what holds the film together, especially when it begins to drag towards the latter half of the film. Fraser is fantastic as Folchart, unsurprisingly as it is very similar to Rick O'Connell from The Mummy Returns with the brashness dialed back. Cornelia Funke actually wrote the character of Folchart in the books with Fraser as the inspiration. Paul Bettany is his usual talented self as well playing off of Fraser's Folchart with just enough smarmy charm. His character is the focal point of the predestination theme as Dustfinger does not want to know how his story ends because he believes that he can change it. It's refreshing to see a young adult film that has something interesting to say rather than opting for sparkling vampires or Mockingjays.
While Bettany and Fraser are good, Andy Serkis steals the show as Capricorn. While typically in a mo-cap suit as King Kong, Gollum, or any number of CGI creatures, Serkis shines when he's just acting. He steals every scene he's in as clearly relishes playing the slimy Capricorn. His emotive eyes help sell the deranged and unhinged nature of the character something that Serkis is used to in his more effects-driven roles.
One of the only stumbling points for the film is the length as it drags in several spots. Clocking in at 106 minutes, it could have been around fifteen minutes shorter and would have flowed better. As well, the climax wasn't as well done as it could have been. It gets off the rails due to the introduction of a bad bigger than Capricorn that is mentioned all of twice prior. It is poorly thought out and, with the book having two sequels, is probably handled better in the source material.
Inkheart got lost in the YA shuffle of the late 2000's. Behind films like Twilight, Percy Jackson, and a concluding Harry Potter, there was just too much competition. It's unfortunate since the film is as good or better, in Twilight's case, than a handful of the YA films it competed with. It's not just because I have a soft spot for Brendan Fraser; the film is quite good on its own.