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Another attempt at "Harry Potter" success.
Brendan Frasier Stars in "Inkheart."
OPENING WEEKEND: $13,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $30,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

September 15th, 2008: "Inkheart" revolves around a girl whose father has the power to bring characters from books to life by reading aloud. When a villainous ruler and his band of rogues from a children's fable kidnap the man, his daughter and her friends, both real and imaginary, must rescue him. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire penned the bigscreen adaptation of German author Cornelia Funke's fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy. "Inkspell" was published last fall, and "Inkdawn" will be out next year.

What to Expect: There's something odd going on in the world of young adult entertainment. This difficult-to-pin-down genre, which encompasses kids anywhere from eight to sixteen, is running both hot and cold at the same time. In the literary world, the YA market is one of the most competitive fiction markets. In the wake of Harry Potter, dozens of comers have swarmed to claim their spot in the void left by Rowling's series, and this age group seems to have a voracious appetite for entertainment. The series of "Twilight" books by Stephanie Meyer (coming this fall to a theater near you, in case you've been on Mars and haven't heard) have inspired cultlike devotion and bookstore rampages that are nearly Potteresque in their enthusiasm. And yet, old favorites such as the Narnia books and Nancy Drew are still selling. They're even bringing back good old Sweet Valley High. Meanwhile, I can't swing a dead cat without hitting some reference to those Jonas brothers, and the tweens can't seem to get enough of Miley Cyrus.

Article continues below

But the movies are going nowhere fast. Unless it stars Daniel Radcliffe or is made by Pixar, it's hard out here for a family film. "The Golden Compass" was based on a bestselling, much beloved book, but it sank like a stone in domestic release (although it did fairly well overseas). The horrendously-titled "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising," the hatchet job that was done to the classic novel by Susan Cooper (whose books were Potter before Potter was Potter) came and went with barely a whimper. Even the Narnia films, while well received, haven't done gangbusters at the box office, and I can't help but wonder how they expect to squeeze seven films out of that series. (Disney doesn't even believe that they can, recently announcing that there will probably only be three films in total).

Why aren't these films succeeding? I think the problem is twofold. First, I think that the size of the book-reading fan base is wildly overestimated. As depressing as it is to realize, more people see even a flop film than read a bestselling novel. Book numbers just don't translate to film numbers. Second, I think a lot of these films gave off the impression of sameness, of a generic "fantasy" quality that didn't distinguish them in the minds of filmgoers. Coming off "Lord of the Rings" fatigue and having Potter everywhere, I'm not sure people really knew what these films were, or why (or if) they were worth seeing. There comes a point when, if you've seen one quirky CGI character or one computer-generated battle scene featuring beasties and heroes, you've seen them all.

And yet, they keep trying. The newest attempt at filming a beloved young adult fantasy series is "Inkheart," based on the novel by German writer Cornelia Funke. Her books are very popular, and Inkheart is the first in a series of three (the third will be published soon). The book is an imaginative story of a bookbinder who discovers that he has the ability to make characters come to life when he reads books aloud, and one day while reading the book "Inkheart," he brings several of its characters to his world while at the same time traps his wife in the pages of the story. Years later, his twelve-year-old daughter, who shared her father's talent, must embark on an adventure to rescue her father after the characters come looking for him, demanding to use his talents for their own purposes. She brings characters from classic books to life to assist her in her quest.

Sounds intriguing. Photography began in 2006. The film has been in the can for over a year. In fact, New Line was shooting it at the same time as "The Golden Compass," both at Shepperton Studios outside London. So why haven't we seen it?

Good question. The film was originally slated for release in March of 2008, but was put off because of...get this...the writer's strike. New Line worried that without first-run TV shows and late-night talk shows, both significant publicity tools, there wouldn't be adequate forums to market the film. I don't know if I buy that line. There were plenty of shows being aired, not to mention the Super Bowl and the Oscars, which could have been used to market. And yet, I can't think of another reason they'd have pushed it back, or why they'd be hiding that reason. It doesn't seem like changes are being made to the film, and it was clearly ready by its release date. The only other thing I can think of is that the studio was spooked by the failures of both "The Golden Compass" and "The Dark Is Rising" and wanted to let a little time pass before they foisted another fantasy film based on a young-adult novel onto the moviegoing public. I suppose it doesn't cost them much to wait as long as the film is finished. Then, the film was moved again, from fall of 2008 to January of 2009. In my cynical heart I suspect that they were trying to avoid competition with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "Twilight," both slated to open in the fall. Now, of course, Potter has moved to summer of 2009 and "Twilight" snapped up its old spot, so "Inkheart" could probably have debuted sometimes in the fall without running into "Twilight." January is a tricky month for a family film. We'll see. It won't likely face much competition. I'm surprised they didn't go for a holiday release.

That was not the film's first behind-the-scenes difficulty, though. The studio was actually sued by another producer who claimed that he'd submitted a treatment of the book before this version, written by David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots), was greenlit. Author Cornelia Funke, who is also producing the film along with Barry Mendel and Diana Pokorny, was adamant that Brendan Fraser be cast in the role of Mortimer, the father. She imagined him in the role when she wrote the first book, and even dedicated the second book to him. The studio wanted a more bankable star in that role, but Funke insisted, and in an amazing instance of a writer not named Rowling getting her way, she won out and Fraser was cast.

This gives me the perfect opportunity to say a few words about Brendan Fraser. If ever there was an actor who had unrealized potential for Hollywood stardom, it's him. The thing about Brendan Fraser is that he's actually a very good actor. Don't believe me? Forget "Encino Man" and the Mummy films. Hunt up some of his lesser-known, dramatic work, like "Twilight of the Golds" or "Still Breathing." Go watch "Gods and Monsters" again. He has a rare ability to immerse himself in a character. This is even evident in some of his less serious work. Would "The Mummy" have been successful without Fraser's near-impeccable comic timing? Doubtful. He knows when to play it light and when to lay it on thick. But at some point in his career, somebody must have advised him to play lightweight roles in comedies and walking cartoons. It was terrible advice. Unless, of course, he wanted a career of lightweight comedies and walking cartoons. In which case, he got it. I just think it's a shame that he has legitimate dramatic talent, and he ends up doing films like "Monkeybone." Shudder. Even so, no matter what laughably bad films he makes, he's invariably the best thing in it, jumping in fearlessly with both feet.

But now he's in this film, which is a bit of a milestone... he's now playing dads. Great. That's usually the beginning of the end for leading men.

Anyway. Back to the film.

Costarring with Fraser is a really stellar cast. Paul Bettany (Da Vinci Code) plays Dustfinger, a creature brought out of the "Inkheart" novel who only wishes to return, and Andy Serkis (Prestige) goes chrome-dome to play the delightfully sinister Capricorn, who likes the real world very much, and is going about the world destroying copies of "Inkheart" so that he can never be returned to the world of the story. Eliza Bennett (Nanny McPhee), whose mother must have been a Jane Austen fan, stars as twelve-year-old Meggie. Helen Mirren appears as Eliza's Aunt Elinor, a character which Mirren was glad to play since it's the first time she's able to show her tattoo on screen, because Elinor's that kind of a gal (Mirren has a small Native American rune tattooed on the back of her left hand, between the thumb and forefinger).

As for the director, German BAFTA nominee Iain Softley is new to fantasy films. After such acclaimed efforts as "Back beat" and "The Wings of the Dove," Softley helmed the much-reviled "K-Pax" and unremarkable "The Skeleton Key," but this time he has the powerful Ordesky-helmed New Line fantasy machine supporting him, and he seems to be drinking their Kool-Aid. During a set visit interview, Softley and Mirren discussed the happy lack of green screens, and that a great many of the film's effects, just as in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, are being achieved in-camera through practical setups. This alleviates some fears about "CGI Fatigue" that may have kept some filmgoers away from other recent fantasy films.

In Conclusion: I think this film looks terrific, and the more I read about it, the more I think so. The story is imaginative, they've got a great team working for them, and they've cottoned on to the fact that movie audiences are sick of CGI-heavy productions. The film promises to be funny, heartfelt and creative. Sadly, this is no guarantee of success, and their repeated pushbacks show a lack of confidence in their own work. I hope the studio can get its act together enough to promote this film adequately, because if they don't, they can't very well act surprised when it sinks like a stone. Given adequate support, it could be a great success. Unless it sucks. Then, all bets are off.

Similar Titles: Stardust, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
January 23rd, 2009 (wide)
June 23rd, 2009 (DVD)

New Line Cinema

Iain Softley

Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Andy Serkis, Rafi Gavron, Sienna Guillory

Total: 90 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Click here to view site

Rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language.

105 min





Inkheart at Trailer Addict

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