Brendan Fraser as a Last Action Neverending Story Hero?
Director: Iain Softley
Notable Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sienna Guilory, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Jennifer Connelly, Jim Broadbent
Every so often I get into the greatest-time-to-be-a-kid discussion. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up in the 1980s, but the decade gave us Nintendo, WrestleMania, and don’t even get me started on the films – where do I begin? Before The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter brought the fantasy genre to new heights, we had The Neverending Story, Willow and The Princess Bride. These three films may not have had either the budgets or the success of Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy, but as a child these were the pinnacles of fantasy cinema, and meant the world to me.
With the arrival of Inkheart in theaters, it again shows that studios are still trying to milk fantasy literature. The same thing happened when Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was released. Sword-and-sandal epics clogged theaters in the following years in what The New York Times dubbed the “Gladiator Effect.”
This adaption of Cornelia Funke’s novel is an inspired entry into the fantasy genre – with an interesting premise – yet fails on its promise that “every story ever written is just waiting to become real.” Apparently in this world the only novels that are read are classics – Mark Twain, The Wizard of Oz, et al. The possibilities are there for exploration, especially with our hero’s unique gift: conjuring people and inanimate objects out of books when read aloud. If a teenage girl had these powers, she would most likely read aloud passages from Twilight in hopes to bring her favorite characters out of the book and into the real world. That’s all we need – a vampire for every pubescent gal.
Fraser’s box office success continues to astound. He’s gone from big-budget fare like The Mummy to small productions (Oscar-winning Crash, The Air I Breathe) only to see himself embraced as a matinee attraction once again. His character, Mortimer, is a Silvertongue, a rare human who’s blessed with the skill of bringing literary figures off the page and into the real world. It sounds like a novel idea (no pun intended), but it also seems all too familiar. For the action satire Last Action Hero a magical movie ticket was the device that enabled celluloid characters to become flesh-and-blood realizations.
When his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) was two, Mortimer read to her bedtime stories. One night his unique gift was awakened. The resulting action was that his wife (Sienna Gillory) vanished, never to be seen again. One of the side effects of reading aloud is that if something comes out of the book, something goes in. Since then, Mortimer and Meggie have traveled the world looking for an out-of-print book called Inkheart; the book that is the key to restoring order in both their lives. A fire-juggler from that novel, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), is hot on their tails. Again with the puns. He was pulled out of the book the night Mortimer read to his daughter. Also ripped from the page was villain Capricorn (Andy Serkis). In his time on Earth, Capricorn has been abusing the powers of the Silvertongues to get what he wants – power and riches beyond compare. Now it is up to Mo, Meggie, Aunt Elinor (Helen Mirren) and the book’s author (Jim Broadbent) to write, um, read a wrong.
Despite its best efforts, Inkheart seemed destined to be a doomed project. Numerous delays (originally slated for release in March ’08) because of the writer’s strike, has produced a choppy final product. It has an eighties feel about it, in a Neverending Story-kind-of-way, but I was left wanting more backstory on some of the supporting characters. They are the ones that bring the most amusement in an adaptation that never realizes its potential.
Andy Serkis chews scenery as the bald-headed foil Capricorn; Mirren and Jim Broadbent are the comic relief; Bettany as the longhaired, misunderstood fire-thrower, and Fraser as the dour hero of the hour. And I can’t forget about Jennifer Connolly’s short, blink-and-you-miss it cameo as Dustfinger’s wife. Sadly, David Bowie couldn’t grace us with an appearance. That would have surely gotten the Labyrinth fanboys and gals in a titter.
If you can forgive its shortcomings, then Inkheart might impress you. The ambition for a good film is there, but you might be better off reading a book instead.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: andy serkis, brendan fraser, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Paul Bettany, The Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride