This 2003 children’s book by German author Cornelia Funke has “lite Hollywood fantasy movie” written all over it . . .

Therefore it should come as no surprise that it has been made into a major motion picture (as the cover blurb declares) starring Brendan Fraser. The release date is January 2009.

The book is aimed at the same 9-12 year old demographic that the Harry Potter books are aimed at, but it is doubtful whether it will have the same adult cross-over appeal that the Potter books have. While Inkheart has a bittersweet tone to it, plus some obscure trivia on the art of book-binding and martens (a rare and practically extinct breed of weasel) it doesn’t offer much simply plot wise. Mo (to be played by Fraser) is a “book doctor” living in an obscure part of Europe with Meggie, his 12-year-old daughter. One night a mysterious stranger from Mo’s past known as Dustfinger appears at their doorstep.

It turns out that Dustfinger is in fact a fictional character from a fantasy book titled Inkheart, and that Mo in fact has the magical ability to “take” fictional characters from books into the real world by reading aloud from the book in question. The only problem is that Mo doesn’t have real control of his “power” – he can’t control who exactly appears from the book is reading. The other problem is that there is usually a “trade-off”, or swap – someone from the real world is physically transported into the world of the book, never to return. One night whilst reading aloud from Inkheart Mo inadvertently brought Dustfinger and two villains from the book into the real world while transporting his own wife into the book.

The two villains include Capricorn (the “Inkheart” of the title; his heart is as black as ink, see?) and his sidekick Basta, both nasty pieces of work. Since bringing them into the real world as real flesh and blood people Mo (and Dustfinger) have been in hiding from Capricorn, played by Andy Serkis in the movie. (Serkis is probably the most seen “unknown” actor of our time. He provided the facial and body movements for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies as well as for King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake.) However Capricorn has finally found Mo and kidnaps him along with his daughter and her eccentric book-loving aunt (Helen Mirren, The Queen).

"It's recommended for the underage Harry Potter crowd . . ."

Taken on purely an action level not much actually happens in Inkheart. Villain kidnaps good guys to coerce them into doing his bidding. They escape, villain tracks them down, captures some of them. Other good guys rescue them and dispatches of the villain. The End. Hope we didn’t spoil it for you. Okay, okay. Some minor complications ensue, ensuring in the process that there will be two more books in the series, namely Inkspell and Inkdeath (published in 2008). One imagines that any Hollywood flick will probably be quite conflicted in this regard: either they go for the bog standard happy Hollywood ending, or they leave it open for future installments in the franchise. So it’s a case of avarice vs. creative bankruptcy then . . .

To be honest we don’t exactly expect any future installments in the Inkheart “franchise”. Funke’s books aren’t particularly well known and there is little advance hype for the movie. Fraser may be making a comeback of sorts (in 2008 he appeared in both The Mummy 3 and Journey to the Center of the Earth) but the public’s appetite for fantasy movies seems to waning. The new Chronicles of Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, underperformed at the box office despite being an improvement on its predecessor and several Harry Potter wannabes such The Seeker and Spiderwick Chronicles didn’t exactly set the box office alight either. The less said about the dismal box office failure of the hugely hyped Golden Compass the better . . . Sure, the new Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince movie will make a killing at the box office, but it is Harry Potter we’re talking about here.

And the book itself? To be honest we found our interest waiver about two-thirds through. Maybe it was the presence of the second installment of Peter Hamilton’s thick Dreaming Void space opera in my “To Read” box. Maybe it was the fact that by then one pretty much had an idea of how it was all going to pan out (something the book itself admits in one of its numerous quotes from other children’s books such as The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings and various others). It’s alas also something one also can say of most Hollywood movies nowadays, which probably explains why this book is being made into one in the first place . . . The book’s intended demographic should have a blast however and it is wholeheartedly recommended for the underage Harry Potter crowd.

(Strangely enough the book’s cover artwork taken from the upcoming movie prominently features a unicorn, something which is never so as mentioned once in the book itself.)



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