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11 December 2023

Too many fairy tales spoil the fantasy

This film adaptation of Cornelia Funke's book wastes the acting talents of Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren (SUPPLIED)

By Kirk Honeycutt

Whatever it was that made Cornelia Funke's German novel Inkheart so popular that it was translated into 37 languages is nowhere evident in its film version, which was also featured at last year's Dubai International Film Festival.

With a group of talented filmmakers in charge – headed by director Iain Softley and a screenplay from Pulitzer-winning dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire – Inkheart goes crazy with fairy tale characters popping in and out, all sorts of fantastical creatures materialising and so many rescues one loses count. Yet the movie fails to involve the key constituent: The audience.

It's hard to see how anyone but hard-core fans of the novel will like – or even understand – this movie.

The main problem is the central concept itself: There exist people called Silvertongues who, when they read from a book, somehow bring some of its characters to life. Then a real person disappears into the book. What isn't clear is why this character comes to life. Or why there is a bodily exchange with a real person. What, pray tell, does that real person do within the pages of the novel? How can a fictional being who, if you think about it, must perform the same deeds over and over again whenever the book is read, do anything different in the real world?

This phenomenon happens only with fantasies. No one brings Raskolnikov to life from Crime and Punishment or Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. But Toto from The Wizard of Oz turns up and is that little dog confused. He isn't in Kansas or Oz but modern-day Italy – only its a fairly tale. Growl.

Brendan Fraser plays a Silvertongue who reads a book to his young daughter one night and awakens a crowd of medieval cutthroats and villains. His wife disappears into the book, the book goes missing and – get this – he never tells his daughter (Eliza Bennett) about this.

For years he haunts old booksellers in search of this rare volume, apparently blithely unaware of Amazon. When he finds the book, this somehow reunites him with fire juggler Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), the evil Capricorn (Andy Serkis) and his knife-flashing aide, Basta (Jamie Foreman). Everyone is acting out the book's story in the tiny village where the book's author, Fenoglio (Jim Broadbent), is somehow oblivious.

Fictional monsters pop up here and there, with the grand finalé featuring queenly Helen Mirren riding a unicorn through a carnival-like reading designed to exorcise a dark giant from the novel.

Clearly, Softley, who has doodled with the supernatural and notions of imaginative realities in previous films, wants to test the boundary between everyday reality and realms of fiction. But the rules of engagement here are unreliable and laboured.