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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Inkheart

When I was growing up we only had the classic stories to amuse us before we drifted off to sleep. You know ~ Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Why Daddy Drinks and Mama Cries A Lot. They basically all had the same things in common. The main characters were girls, usually orphans, and they were on their own battling some pain in the pattootie just to survive till the “and they lived happily ever after.”

Nowadays, if you go into a kids’ bookstore you’re as likely to find copies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien as you are The Day My Butt Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths. Of course there are still the perennial favorites for the coming-of-age crowd, those snoopy Hardy Boys and their female counterpart, Nancy Drew, but most kids would rather pick up a volume of Harry Potter and his magical adventures than be stuck with a trio of teenage wannabe detectives. That’s the problem. With the advent of BIG special effects in the movies, kids’ imaginations have expanded a thousand-fold than from where they were even thirty years ago. They have come to expect light saber fights and time travel, dinosaurs and mummies to come alive on the written page, and the simple story of a girl with stepmother issues who wants to go to a party is so “WGAFF”, according to any ten year old texter, they’d be bored to tears reading something so pedestrian.

So you’d think that these new books would come up with something completely different if anyone under forty was going to be interested, and yet even with the odd titles and the heavily-influenced-by-cinema plotlines, most still seem to eventually end up back at “and they lived happily ever after.” The only difference is that in the movies, the main character is usually a guy instead of a virginal young miss, and he’s generally got to prove his manly man bravery so he will be awarded a pair of testicles (at least in spirit) from some other man who is around to witness the first guy’s deeds of daring. Think Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, or Wallace & Grommit as examples.

Now comes along the odd duck called Inkheart, a delightfully daffy movie starring Brendan Fraser (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) as Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, an American who has spent the better part of the last ten years roaming Europe with his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett; Perfect Life), raising her as a single parent, while he continued to look for Meggie’s mother, who disappeared when she was just a toddler. What Meggie doesn’t know is a secret Mo has been keeping from her and hoping she would never learn ~ he is what some call a ‘Silvertongue,’ a person with the amazing ability to read something aloud and bring the person or creature he is reading about into our world from within the pages of that book. The downside, and unfortunately one evidenced on the fateful night Mo discovered his talent (while reading a bedtime story to little Meggie), is that when he calls someone out of the fantasy world into ours someone from ours must take that person’s place. Resa (Sienna Guillory; also of Perfect Life), Mo’s wife and Meggie’s mother, was the one to slip into the Inkheart world that night, something Mo did not realize and would not until he comes face-to-face with a fire-juggler by the name of Dustfinger (Paul Bettany; The Secret Life of Bees), one of the characters he pulled out of the book a decade earlier. Dustfinger means Mo no harm. All he wants is for Mo to read him back into the book so he can be reunited with his own wife and true love, Roxanne (a brief cameo by Bettany’s own wife and true love, Jennifer Connelly; The Day the Earth Stood Still).

The motivation for Mo’s refusal to read for Dustfinger doesn’t seem well-defined, especially since he’s had ten years of opportunity to do it before he actually knows that by doing so someone else will be sent into another world. It seems downright cruel, really, to deny Dustfinger from reuniting with his wife just because Mo is missing his. I’ve heard of misery loving company, but this is more like A-holery to me. For all Mo knows, reading Dustfinger back in might have brought Resa back out. What a boob.


Anyway, the fun really begins when Mo takes Meggie to visit her Great Aunt Elinor Loredan (Hele
n Mirren; National Treasure: Book of Secrets) in Italy, allowing Mirren the opportunity to play full-throttle diva crazy in this glorious mansion on Lake Cuomo. She goes way past eccentric as Elinor, but, God love her, she pulls it off, and will have the audience laughing at her every turn. I think the crown she wore in The Queen must have been too tight because it appears since then Ms. Mirren has done more and more the type of parts that are leading to the day we’ll find her sitting in an attic clutching a Ouija Board and drinking way too much Kool-Aid. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s while at Elinor’s that Mo and Meggie first encounter the dark forces at work that they are destined to overcome. On the night Resa disappeared, a couple of other characters besides Dustfinger slipped into this world, and they aren’t sweet and cuddly. Capricorn (Andy Serkis; The Cottage) and Basta (Jamie Foreman; Out There), two of the minor henchmen to the real villain in the book
Inkheart have discovered that life on this side of the reality/fantasy barrier is great fun for them because here they can be in charge rather than forced into servitude. They’ve seized a castle for themselves up in the Alps and have an entire village in their grasp. Now they are sending their goons across Europe to gobble up every last copy of the long-out-of-print Inkheart to ensure that no Silvertongues will be reading them back into the book. That’s why the unpleasant Flatnose (Steve Speirs; Caught in the Act) and Cockerell (Matt King; RocknRolla) pop up in Elinor’s library and scare the bejeezus out of Mo, Meggie, and Elinor. They are in search of rare copies of Inkheart, which, of course, both Elinor and Mo have.

You can probably imagine what happens when Mo is left without a copy of the book, his only link to Resa, but it’s probably better if you don’t so you can actually enjoy where the tale is headed. It is fairly obvious as children’s stories go that if we are going to end up with an “and they lived happily ever after,” Mo and Meggie are going to have to get that book back, read everyone where they need to go, and retrieve Resa from the world of Inkheart. It should be so easy, but they’ve got 106 minutes to get it done, so don’t worry too much. It’s just that there are so many more complications along the way. Oh, and did I mention there’s a giant monster? No? Well, there’s a giant monster too.

My biggest question has to do with the fictitious book which shares its name with the actual book by Cornelia Funke and the movie
Inkheart (this one) directed by Iain Softley (The Skeleton Key). This referred-to book within the movie never does explain who “Inkheart” is or what it means, assuming that the book is a medieval story unrelated to the events of this film presented on-screen. We also never really know who the hero or heroine of the storybook “Inkheart” is. Is it Dustfinger? If so, he never gives us any indication that the story is his nor do any of the other “travelers” from the other realm. I couldn’t help but wonder why Mo wouldn’t have ‘read out’ the hero of the “Inkheart” saga to get his help or perhaps go so far as to ‘read out’ Basta and Capricorn’s evil boss just long enough for him to get pissed off at their ‘missing in action status’ and daring to attain his level within the ‘bullying class’ behind his back so he would smack them up the side of the heads and then Mo could send them all home for good. And by ‘good’ I mean ‘Good.’

Inkheart is not going to tax any brain cells unless you make it more difficult than it has to be (like me). For kids, and the young at heart, it is full of adventure, beautiful locales and terrific effects. Oh, and best of all it ends with a “Happily Ever After” and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. I just wish it came with footnotes.

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