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Case Number 16703

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Inkheart

New Line // 2009 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // June 29th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Steve Power doesn't read books. Print is dead!

Editor's Note

Our review of Inkheart (Blu-Ray), published June 23rd, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

Every story ever written is just waiting to become real!

Opening Statement

Ever since Harry Potter first snagged the Philosopher's Stone, publishers have been churning out book after book, series after series, in the hopes that Hollywood is waiting in the wings to snatch up the next big thing. From Germany comes Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, and from New Line Pictures and English director Iain Softley (K-PAX) comes the inevitable film adaptation.

Facts of the Case

Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy) and his precocious daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennet, Nanny McPhee) have a gift. When they read a book aloud, the people, places, and actions leap into the real world! Unfortunately, when Mo first discovered this gift, his wife disappeared into the pages and the villainous cast of a book called Inkheart jumped into our world. With his daughter at his side, plus the help of an eccentric Aunt (Helen Mirren, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets) and the book's author (Jim Broadbent, Hot Fuzz), Mo must track down one of the remaining copies of Inkheart and stop the evil rogue, Capricorn (Andy Serkis, Lord of the Rings) from reading even greater evils into the real world.

The Evidence

Inkheart has all the makings of a great adventure. Mo and Meggie must scour Europe for a copy of the titular tome, while characters from its pages dog their every step. You've got epic settings, larger-than-life villains, excuses for big action set pieces, and a collection of interesting and typically entertaining actors and actresses. The problem is none of it ever really gels. There's never any period in the film where it feels like it's doing anything more than going through the motions. Sure the characters seem frantic enough, but they never seem to be in any kind of real hurry either.

The rules established within the film don't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. Why does someone always have to go into the book when something comes out? Purely to have a hook to drive Mo and Meggie along would be my guess. Or maybe to drum up some cheap drama, when it comes time for Mo to deliver on his promise to read the enigmatic fire-juggler, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany, The DaVinci Code) back into the tome perhaps? The whole plot feels heavily contrived; it's like a mishmash of other, better stories that feels all too familiar. Never once did I find myself buying into what was going on, suspending disbelief, or just enjoying the ride. That's a fatal flaw in a fantasy film. I wish I could pinpoint one particular area to blame, but the general malaise pretty much seeps through the pores of the entire film. Direction, action, plot, music, characters, nothing is particularly engaging.

As far as adaptations go, I'm told the filmmakers made considerable changes to Funke's work, making the film more self contained and completely eliminating the written word version of the sequel, Inkspell, in the process. Whether these changes were for better or worse, I cannot say, as I've not read the book. Given the nature of this beast, I'm sure fans of the novels are highly miffed, especially since the movie writes off potential sequels, or pretty much guarantees they will have to drastically deviate from the books they love.

New Line's DVD treatment is a passable affair, but certainly nothing special. The transfer holds up to scrutiny, with a nice clean print free of errors or excessive grain. Colors seem muted and there's some softness, but it seems like more of a filmmaker's choice than any kind of technical flaw. The 5.1 sound is pretty tame for a movie of this kind, which was a surprise. It's clear and well balanced, but I expected the subwoofer and surround speakers to get more of a workout.

In terms of extras, you get a digital copy of the film (or more accurately a code to download a digital copy), and a short featurette where actress Eliza Hope Bennett (who plays Meggie) reads her favorite passage from Inkheart, which also happens to be the final passage in the book. The last page would probably be my favorite as well, if the film is any indication.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The performances in Inkheart are definitely a bright spot. Jim Broadbent is always a joy to watch, and his kooky novelist Fenoglio is no exception. Helen Mirren plays great aunt Elinor and, outside of a terribly cheesy moment during the finale, she's a hoot. The best performance comes from Andy Serkis, who's in full on "evil heel" mode, stealing quite a few scenes. The few laughs I did get were courtesy of Andy. Like Jim and Helen, he knew what kind of film he was making and seemed to be relishing the experience. Eliza Hope Bennett also did an admirable job of stealing the lead role from a sleepwalking Brendan Fraser (Seriously! Somebody get this guy a triple latte and some uppers!)

Beyond performances, Inkheart's effects were actually pretty slick, better than a lot of the CG in recent big productions like the Harry Potter flicks or the last excursion to Narnia. They don't save the film from mediocrity, but they certainly don't drag it down.

Closing Statement

It's not that Inkheart is a bad film, it's just completely devoid of any ambition. As far as adaptations go, it's not a good representation of the novel, which will disappoint many. It's just bland, with all the flavor of a piece of corrugated cardboard, made somewhat watchable by a few good performances.

The Verdict

Guilty. Sentencing is suspended. Inkheart's probable fate of sharing bottom shelf space with the likes of The Golden Compass is punishment enough.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 72
Extras: 25
Acting: 70
Story: 68
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Adventure
• Family
• Fantasy

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Digital Copy

Accomplices

• IMDb








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