I have never read the books by Cornelia Funke but, being a fan of Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next books, the premise is too intriguing to ignore: ‘silvertongues’ have the power to bring things from books to life when they read aloud. That’s a good concept. Having a gift certificate for a cinema, the urge to watch a family film over the Christmas period, and a favourable review from Mark Kermode (the man who should take over from Jonathan Ross on the Film programme), it seemed the perfect choice.
Inkheart the film stars Brendan Fraser (apparently the choice of Funke when she was writing the books) as Mortimer, a silvertongue who accidentally read the villains out of Inkheart, an old book, while reading his wife into it – a curse that accompanies the reading. Since then, he has kept searching for his wife by looking for copies of Inkheart, while looking after their daughter and being a repairer of old books. Meanwhile, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) is also trying to locate a copy of Inkheart so he can be read back into the book – he is a firebreather who was read into the real world in the first reading. However, Capricorn (Andy Serkis), the henchman of the main villain in Inkheart, has developed a small criminal empire outside and doesn’t want to go back to the book, and is destroying all copies he can locate. He has found a stuttering silvertongue to help him, who brings people out but with errors (they still have print tattooed on their face to highlight this). His gang hijack Mortimer, as well as his daughter and his aunt, to make him read riches out of books. Of course, they escape and finally come upon the idea to locate the original author and his copy of the book …
I could continue with a description with the plot, but it won’t do anything to convince you to see this film. It lacks any sense of urgency or coherence to the narrative consistency, there is little in the way of real humour, there are annoying plot contrivances just to clunk from one point to the next, and the actors seem to be quite lifeless – the only person who seems alive in the film is the young girl playing the daughter. With the likes of Helen Mirren as Mortimer’s aunt and Jim Broadbent as the author of Inkheart, you’d hope for more but all the adult actors seem to be acting less because they’re in a children’s film. Fraser’s character seems to be quite stupid (why didn’t he think of getting the original manuscript in the 10 years before?) and doesn’t really do anything heroic. Serkis plays the villain in quite a pantomimey fashion, which doesn’t work – why does he have to say ‘I love duct tape’ in such a silly manner? Even Bettany, perhaps the most interesting character in the film, doesn’t act with his usual skill and charisma. Iain Softley directs the film well but doesn’t enliven proceedings, although there isn’t much to enliven. It also doesn’t help when the plot clunkiness makes you groan – when the daughter discovers she is a silvertongue, she reads out Toto from The Wizard of Oz, who Broadbent handily identifies to Capricorn’s goons when they arrive to kidnap them, announcing that she is a silvertongue. Doesn’t that make your teeth grind just from reading it? It might have worked better in the book but the film doesn’t convince; Mortimer’s wife has been read out by the stuttering silvertongue and doesn’t have a voice, which is fine on the page but silly on the screen.
The most annoying aspect for me is the lack of explanation and internal consistency within the world of silvertongues, especially in comparison with the Thursday Next books – what are the rules of this world? When the characters are removed, are they no longer in the book? Does the story continue in the same fashion? Is it only in the book read or in all copies? Fforde created a world with rules and levels of understanding that allow the books to operate on many different levels without subtracting adventure or excitement; the same cannot be said for this film and the logic of its world. How many silvertongues are there? What effect do they have on the worlds of books? Can the same characters be read out again? It’s this level of frustration in what is an interesting concept that stops this film from getting off the ground. I saw this film in a cinema with a lot of children – they didn’t get into it either, and that’s not a good sign for the target audience or for the hope of a sequel.
And Mark Kermode – you let me down.