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Review: Inkheart (movie)

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As many of y'all may recall, a year ago I committed the sacrilege of disliking Inkheart (the book).

One of the main reasons I picked up the book in the first place was that I had seen a preview for the movie and it had looked like fun, and I wanted to read the book first. My issues with the book made me somewhat less interested in seeing the movie, but it stayed on my Netflix list, and it arrived in today's mail.

I had a kind of a difficult day (nothing awful, just a bunch of relatively small stuff, plus general difficulty coping), so instead of saving the movie for this coming Sunday, when I expect to need something fun and fluffy to distract me, I watched it tonight.

(And it had occurred to me that a movie about a kid who's lost a parent might not be ideal for Sunday anyway.)

And I really enjoyed it.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's pretty much what I wanted the book to be.

Which probably means that y'all who loved the book won't think much of the movie. And iIrc, the reviews of the movie from reviewers who hadn't read the book were middling-to-negative, so y'all who haven't read the book might not think much of it either. But the few of you who read the book but found it lacking might consider giving the movie a try.Spoilers follow, for both book and movie

My first complaint about the book was that it's 138 pages in before there's even a hint of magic. I want my magic front and center, dammit. Or at least relatively soon.

In the movie, there's magic in the opening seconds. Voiceover narration explaining the premise at the start is not my favorite way to open a movie, but here (unlike in The Golden Compass) I thought it was reasonably well done and entirely justified. And aside from that narration, the opening scene of the movie is lovely.

Meggie is well cast; not familiar with Eliza Hope Bennett, but I liked her in this. And I've liked Brendan Fraser (who plays Mo) in pretty much everything I've seen him in. (Though I've avoided several of his movies that I doubt I would enjoy.) In the opening minutes, I loved the bit of Mo hearing the voices from the books as he walked through the bookshop; I liked the dynamic between Mo and Meggie (also one of the strong points of the book); and I loved the (fairly) subtle moment of Dustfinger blowing into his own hands to create flame.

So the whole opening sequence left me feeling that I was in good hands; they got a bunch of author points in those first few minutes.

The movie certainly has flaws, some of them the same as the book's (imo) flaws. I found Mo's refusal to tell Meggie what happened annoying here too—but it didn't last nearly as long here (because the plot is somewhat condensed to fit a movie's runtime). The movie has a similarly oddly premodern feel to it, but at least the baddies have guns, and Meggie refers early on to bookstores with coffee shops; there's no cell phones or Internet, but at least it feels more or less like the modern world, or perhaps the world of the early '90s.

Capricorn, sadly, isn't as menacing as I'd like. He's played by Andy Serkis, but he kept looking to me distractingly like Rowan Atkinson, which made him hard to take seriously. Jennifer Connelly is wasted in a tiny cameo as Dustfinger's wife; I knew she looked familiar, but couldn't quite place her, so that was a bit distracting too, though the character's existence and brief lines did add some pathos to Dustfinger's story that I felt was missing in the book.

I didn't recognize Helen Mirren as Elinor, either, but I did find her charming; much more sympathetic and interesting than in the book. And I somehow failed to recognize Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio, although he's quite recognizable.

There are some weirdly clunky bits of dialogue ("This is no time to act foolishly!"), and a weird bit where Mo repeats what he just said about Resa's disappearance (it looked like a serious editing error; I guess they felt it needed to be repeated so the audience would get it), and some of the characters behave in kind of dumb ways. Oh, and unfortunately Brendan Fraser is not the best reader-aloud ever. But these are all minor flaws. (And Eliza Bennett (yes, she's named after Elizabeth from Pride & Prejudice, says the IMDB) turns out to be quite a good reader; the only DVD special feature is Bennett reading a bit from the ending of the book that isn't in the movie.)

And they attempted to address one of my bigger issues with the book: the complete dropping of the idea that reading someone or something out of a book puts someone else into it. They didn't entirely deal with that to my satisfaction, but at least they didn't just ignore the whole idea during most of the story.

And I was really pleased to see them actually use the power of reading-aloud for their own purposes. Unlike Vardibidian, I never felt there was anything especially magical about the book-within-a-book of Inkheart; it felt to me like the protagonists caught on much faster in the movie than in the book to the notion of using their power to help themselves. (Though even here, nobody was as scared as they should've been that anyone nearby (including good guys) might get sucked into the book being read from.)

And as I noted in my review of the book, I felt like the book had a frustratingly coy attitude toward other books; it sort of felt to me like, as a book that was totally focused on love of books but that didn't seem to have any kind of emotional connection to books, it was kind of empty at its heart. Whereas the movie seems to me to be suffused with the love of books; the stuff that other readers got from the book in that regard, I got from the movie.

Anyway. The movie does have flaws. But it also does a much better job than the book of addressing most of my biggest concerns with the book, and it adds some good actors and a lot of charm and, best of all, it feels to me a lot more magical than the book does. It's not brilliant, but I do recommend it.

But if you loved the book, and if you're put off by the first few minutes of the movie, then you should probably give up on it.

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This is timely for me, because we just watched the movie on Thursday. One major difference that I found between the book and the movie (other than the stark differences in pacing) was that the movie treated books as special because of their content, while the book treated books as special because of their physical properties. These are very different reasons to love books, and they are not necessarily correlated.

My favorite part of the movie was Eliza reading a section of the book in the "special feature", and I would have been very content to simply hear her read the entire book aloud with music and sound effects. The landscapes and buildings were beautiful, but I did not care for the visual jitter that accompanied the shifting between the real world and a book of either a character or the camera's attention. And the fine-grained moment-to-moment control that Meggie had at the end of the movie over the Shadow and then over the entire world was overly powerful and cost-free. It makes sense that the movie solved many of the problems you had with the book; as someone who loved the book, I neither hated the movie nor did I find it as disappointing an adaptation as I had feared.

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