Inkheart
And so Daddy had to fight a lot of mummies … Wait, wrong script.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/23/2008
Director: Iain Softley
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Ravi Gavron, Sienna Guillory

So when I went to see “Inkheart”, it was with an all-too-familiar range of emotions; hope for a well-done rendition of a cherished franchise of children’s novels struggling feebly against a treacherous current of fear that I would yet again be disappointed by a Hollywood mangling of perfectly good source material.

I walked out feeling that this film was a mixture of the two.

In case you haven’t read this book, here is a brief recap: Meggie (Eliza Bennett) lives a warm, comfortable life with her father Mo (Brendan Fraser) and all of her cherished books. When Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), a mysterious stranger from her father’s past, shows up with cryptic warnings about a villain named Capricorn (Andy Serkis), Meggie’s world is turned upside down by the revelation that her father magically read the characters Dustfinger and Capricorn out of the book Inkheart and into the real world, and that her long lost mother Resa (Sienna Guillory) might have been read into the book. With the help of her great-aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren) and another displaced character named Farid (Ravi Gavron), they must stop Capricorn’s evil plans, save Resa, and read Dustfinger back into the life he misses so desperately.

I suppose I should start by saying that, when viewed as a stand-alone story, the film is okay. It’s not going to become your new favorite; it’s just barely worth the insane cost of a movie ticket these days. But it holds together fairly well, and is more entertaining to watch than most of the book “reimaginings” this year (yes, “Desperaux“, I’m talking to you!). Bettany shines as Dustfinger, whose fear and guilt ring true in his capable performance. Fraser is a decent Mo, if lacking some of his softer, compassionate tendencies. Mirren is great but underused, as her role is greatly reduced in the film version. Bennett is a decent Meggie as well.

The effects are good, and the locations are beautiful. Large parts of the movie are filmed on location in Italy. One problem I had was with the film quality. It might have been the theater’s projection, but some potentially stunning shots were less impressive because they appeared to be dark and washed out.

Now it’s time for me to get up on my soapbox. If you don’t like books, you can probably stop reading now, but if you are a fan of the written word, stay with me a bit longer.

I understand that the book is fairly dense. There are a lot of characters, and serious twists and turns in the storyline. To make a movie of acceptable length, they were always going to make cuts. What I didn’t find necessary were all of the changes they made. Several changes were made in the plot advancement. Some scenes were left out, only to be replaced by alternate versions. It wasn’t a matter of money, because many of the added scenes included expensive special effects.

Some of the characters were also drastically changed. Capricorn and Basta were well cast for their film versions, but neither captured the spirit of the original characters. The author Fenoglio (Broadbent) was woefully one-dimensional, and his character has far less impact than he did in the novel.

Then they committed the ultimate sin: they changed the ending. Like, a lot. They modified the climactic events, and added an extra scene that, if they chose to film the next book, would drastically change the opening sequences.

When I discussed some of these changes with my fellow theatergoers, they preferred some of the movie ideas, and that is fine. There were definitely some clever moments in the film. But if you want to be clever, make an original film. Taking a pre-existing story and twisting it around to fit your idea of a good movie is lazy, and in my opinion it borders on plagiarism. If you do it for a built-in audience, don’t you want them to accept the film and recommend it to others? Eventually savvy readers are going to stop seeing these films because even the good ones are still a disappointment.

Sigh.

So, if you just want a movie to take your ‘tweens to, this one is all right, provided they aren’t fans of the book. For at least being a better movie (and more appropriate for younger kids) than “Twilight“, I give it a marginal 3 stars.

Just promise me this: if you like the movie, be sure to read the book someday- it is much better.