Friday, January 23, 2009

"Inkheart": British children's family with a subtle "adult" meaning


The idea of characters in a book coming alive seems novel – but the amalgamation of “fiction” and “reality” storyline has happened before many times, for example, the “play within the play” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The idea happens in opera, for example, Pagliacci.

Nevertheless, the notion is the eyecatching premise of New Line’s new British “children’s” fantasy, “Inkheart”, directly by Iain Softley, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke. In the Alps somewhere, Mo Silvertongue Folchart (Brendan Fraser) has read aloud to his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) various books, but from one of them, the villains have come to life and one in particular Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), who has befriended a wonderful weasel (a kind of “Rado Suhl”), chases Mo down, warning him. We learn that Mo’s wife has disappeared. To look for "Mom", Mo drives his daughter through a tunnel to Italy, perhaps lake Como, where he meets Eleanor Loredan (Helen Mirren, “The Queen”) and where Meggie discovers the library with the books. There is a bonfire resembling Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” but we learn that the mother went back into the book (the purple volume Inkheart) and the characters came out of it.

There are other things here: it seems as though a lot of books have only one copy. Even though there are modern weapons and vehicles, there’s no information technology and individual “instances” of books are precious.

The idea of reading to others occurs in another recent film, “The Reader” (reviewed Dec. 26 2008) but with a totally different meaning.

But, as so often with kids’ movies, there’s a real message for adults here. There’s a growing legal problem (called “implicit content”) with “fiction” that comes too close to real life, particularly when posted by “amateurs” on the Internet. I wrote about that on Jan. 5 on my main blog; visitors may want to track the categories back. The fear is that it maps to something that the author believes happened or will happen in “real life” and sometimes might be taken as enticing. The Newseum in Washington DC has a First Amendment exhibit that supposes how a school system would react to a fiction story posted on the Internet about a fictitious attack.

Jim Broadbent ("Longford") plays the Inkheart author Fenoglio, and seems to be aware that with his words he is creating not only an alternate but perhaps a "present" reality. There some pretty big fire-breathing golem monsters near the end.

There were media reports that New Line has been completely absorbed as part of Warner Brothers, with layoffs; however it appears that Warner intends to keep using the New Line brand for some of its more unique films.

The large auditorium in a Regal complex in Arlington VA was only about 25% full for a 7:10 showing. Two of the large screens in the complex have curved screens; two are flat; this was shown on a flat fullsized 2:35:1 screen, but I don't know how screen curvature affects projection or lens use. Maybe someone in the business does.

Here's a distantly related observation: The Disney 3-D animated film "Chicken Little" in the fall of 2005 made an interesting point when "Chicken Little" (a "typical" playground "sissy" in right-wing lore) has drawn attention to himself (with "The Sky Is Falling") and is pilloried on the Internet, an event that his father complains about in dialogue that is bizarre for an kid's movie. This makes a point about "online reputation" in a film that was screen-written just as social networking sites were becoming known and popular.

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