Directed by Iain Softley
Studio: New Line
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:11080pVC-1 codec
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, German
Subtitles: English., Spanish, German
MSRP: $ 35.99
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Review Date: June 25, 2009
There’s enough originality and imagination contained in the premise of Inkheart to make one furious that the film isn’t much, much better. A family-based fantasy that never quite delivers on its promise of a magical experience, Inkheart has some appealing characters but an underwhelming story and a mediocre cinematic execution. It’s a shame actually because the premise has the goods to have been one of the most captivating movie fantasies ever, but it simply doesn‘t make the best of its assets.
“Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a Silvertongue, a reader imbued with magical powers that can cause fictional characters and objects to leap off the printed page into the real world. Only the last time Mo read aloud to his now teenaged daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) from the book Inkheart, a series of characters including the forlorn Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) and the malevolent Capricorn (Andy Serkis) jumped into the real world while transferring his wife Resa (Sienna Guillory) into the book in their place (the transference always requires a real world sacrifice). After the book was lost, Mo has been searching for nine years to find another copy so he can hopefully find a way to read his wife back to the real world, but the search has been fruitless as the book was a limited printing with very few copies in existence. Once he locates a copy, he learns he’s been trailed by the characters he’s trying to return to the book. Apart from Dustfinger, they don’t want to go back, and they want Mo to bring their supremely evil leader The Shadow out to join them in the real world.
The film has been adapted by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire from a series of illustrated books by Cornelia Funke, but on the screen whatever magic might have been a part of the printed page falls desperately flat with the pursuit and capture of the Folcharts not very exciting, and the rousing attempts to foil the evildoers predictable and unimaginatively directed and performed. The film sports wonderful production design (the library where Meggie’s grandmother Elinor (Helen Mirren) stores her literary treasures is so breathtakingly realized that one would love to curl up there with a good book and forget about the movie), and there are enough allusions to famous literature (the winged monkeys and the cyclone from The Wizard of Oz, the ticking crocodile from Peter Pan, Excalibur from Le Morte D‘Arthur, the raft from Huckleberry Finn) to provide some momentary delight. But the central adventure is not very adventurous, and the conclusion is way too pat and flat.
Surprising to me was the fact that it’s second-billed Paul Bettany, not star Brendan Fraser, who gains the lion’s share of attention and sympathy. Fraser’s basically a cipher while Bettany’s sense of hopelessness quickly gains him audience sympathy once we get past the rather poorly executed expository sequences setting up this world of Silvertongues. Helen Mirren is overly brusque and off-putting early on though there are moments later where she’s easier to take. Jim Broadbent as the original author of the book in question acts his slightly befuddled bookish type with great familiarity. Andy Serkis makes for an evil albeit one-dimensional villain.
The film’s Panavision 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. Sharpness is beautifully rendered, and the film sports a dimensionality that makes the image very appealing. Color is excellent with accurate flesh tones and very good black levels with fine shadow detail. Only in long shots is there a touch a smearing to mar the otherwise outstanding pictorial quality of the transfer. The film has been divided into 25 chapters.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track mixes Javier Navarrete’s music score beautifully through all of the surround channels. There is good use of the surrounds for the ambient sounds conjured up in the film’s fantasy sequences (especially the cyclone and the appearance of The Shadow), but in other places, one gets the feeling that more might have been done to liven up the rear channels apart from the most action-heavy sequences.
“A Story from the Cast and Crew” is a 6 ½-minute bit of tomfoolery with various members of the cast and crew writing a progressive tale with each person contributing a sentence or two before handing it off to another person. It’s imaginatively illustrated in 1080i as the tale progresses.
“From Imagination to the Page: How Writers Write” features original book author Cornelia Funke describing as much as she can the writing process she goes through to turn out her books: the inspirations, how she develops characters and settles on a setting for her books. This 1080i featurette runs for 10 ½ minutes.
There are nine deleted scenes (including an alternate/better opening sequence) which can be watched individually or in one 13 ½-minute group. They’re presented in 480i.
“Eliza Reads to Us” finds actress Eliza Hope Bennett reading a passage from the book that didn’t make it into the finished screenplay with illustrations by Cornelia Funke. As the passage comes near the end of the book, there is a spoiler warning not to play this feature until you’ve seen the movie. It’s in 1080i and runs 3 ¾ minutes.
The Blu-ray disc contains BD-Live material, but there were network connection problems during the reviewing process.
A second disc in the set contains a combo of a regular DVD copy and a digital copy of the film with instructions inside for installing on PC and Mac devices.
Inkheart isn’t inspiring or charming enough to enter into the pantheon of current beloved fantasies like the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings. The Blu-ray disc is beautiful to watch and listen to, but, ultimately, it’s a disappointingly realized film version of a book series that has been gaining popularity through the last few years.