From Page to Screen: Inkheart

Book vs. Movie: Inkheart (2008) (SPOILERS!)

Posted March 26, 2021 by Amber in Bookish Things / 1 Comment

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Full confession before I dig too deeply into this Book vs. Movie post – Inkheart is one of my favorite underappreciated cozy films.  I am so excited to write this post if for no other reason to share this largely forgotten film.  Is it a perfect movie?  Absolutely not.  It’s a bit outdated and there are some stiff moments and the beginning is a bit of a mess… but Inkheart has so much soul.  The magic tugs at all the strings of my imagination and the movie is generally so well cast… and the score!  Well, okay, let me tell you….

For those who read my review of Inkheart, you’ll know I found the book still wonderfully imaginative, if a little slow.  Pacing is not a problem in the film and, if anything, it could stand to have another 20 minutes of content to flesh out some of the characters more, especially in the beginning.  The viewer needs to wait about 30 minutes until Mo reveals the nature of his gift, and if you’re stumbling on Inkheart without any idea of what it’s about, this could be a little confusing.  What’s going on?  Why is Brendan Fraser fighting with Paul Bettany?

Oh that’s right.  This film has an excellent cast (in my opinion).

You’ve got Brendan Fraser playing Mo, Paul Bettay as Dustfinger, Helen Mirren as Eleanor, Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio and Andy Serkis as Capricorn.  All five of these actors are perfect embodiments of the characters in the book – I could not cast them better even now thirteen years after release.  Fraser plays a more serious role than some of his other roles (The Mummy) and Broadbent is just perfect honestly.  I like Broadbent’s Fenoglio much better than the stiff, self-important Fenoglio in the book.  There’s this one scene where he’s meeting all the villains and being threatened and he is just delighted when he should be terrified.  It’s perfect.

Note that Meggie’s actress, Eliza Bennett, is missing from the above list.  I can’t peg whether I don’t like her performance, or I just don’t like Meggie?  I guess you’ll have to watch and decide for yourself.  Rafi Gavron is also fantastic as Farid, who is easily one of my favorite characters in the trilogy.  It is appropriate that all the characters in Inkheart seem to jump off the page and materialize on screen perfectly.

As far as the story – there are cuts from the book.  There are always cuts.  When a book is adapted, what matters most to me is the way it is adapted.  Were major scenes lost?  Were ridiculous things added?  In the case of Inkheart, we’ve mostly lost character backstory.  Fenoglio’s grandchildren have been omitted (though he is still making chocolate cake when Mo and Meggie meet him).  Eleanor has some cuts as well, though in the limited screen time she receives, she holds her own.  We’ve also lost a lot of Basta’s backstory, which reduces him to a slimy villain who has a name, but we don’t know that he’s superstitious, and we don’t see him fail time and again.  Basically, Inkheart the film narrows the scope of character development to mostly Dustfinger, and Mo and Meggie.  I think the lack of backstory and time spent together for the characters hurts the on-screen relationships a little.  Paul Bettany’s acting is the beset in this way.  Bettany and Gavron work really well together, and we finally have some on-screen chemistry between Bettany and Fraser at the end.  Everyone else feels a bit distant and internalized..

I do want to emphasize, though – the magic of Inkheart is absolutely present.  This is a world that you want to step into and experience more of.

There were some changes made that I thought really helped bring the magic to the screen and assure the film had the same feel as the book.  There’s a lot more actual reading in Inkheart the film – beyond what is read out of Inkheart.  I feel as though Darius had a larger role in this movie, and his creations are recognizable.  The movie relies on classics for the reading – the ticking crocodile from Peter Pan (also mentioned in the book), Huck’s raft in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rapunzel, unicorns from fairytales, and of course we know Farid comes from Arabian Nights.  But there is one particular classic franchise that gets a bit of extra love in this movie, and that is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

By and far my favorite scene from Inkheart the movie is not at all in the book, and that is when Mo reads the twister from The Wonderful Wizard Oz out of the book.  This book continues to be used throughout the film, with three different elements jumping off the page at different points in the film.  I really liked this – Oz is a magical world in its own right, and simply because of the “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…” element that also rolls into Inkheart, theming wise?  I think this was a great-choice.  Adding more reading to the film made this feel like more of an adventure.

Not all the added bits were perfect.  The beginning, explaining how Dustfinger came out of the book, was changed a bit.  The way the reading is used doesn’t always lend itself well to following the rules of magic, at least not as it is portrayed on screen here.  This caused some confusion since I watched it with Matt, who’d never read the book – I found myself explaining a good amount.  This may be objective (I saw the film years ago, a long while before reading the book, and I go the concept?) and Mo is pretty insistent on repeating the cost of reading throughout the film, but that is something to keep in mind.

I know this post is getting pretty long, but there is just one more thing that I want to quickly touch on – the musical score.  I love the score to this film because of the way it continues to weave together with the magic.  It has its own music, but when someone is reading aloud and magic is happening, the score begins to twist toward music appropriate to that story. Going back to the scene with the twister – there’s very recognizable elements from the original score from The Wizard of Oz.  It deepens the magic and is clever and I appreciated it a lot.

Is Inkheart a perfect book to screen adaptation?  Absolutely not!  There are liberties taken and items removed and added and the characters aren’t fully developed (at least not in my opinion).  The pace is much faster than Funke’s novel.  It’s also a bit cheesy at times.  That said, I believe it absolutely a good movie, especially if you enjoy a bit of magic and adventure.  Inkheart materializes the things on screen that lives in so many reader’s hearts – the ability to make flesh and blood the characters from favorite novels.  I enjoy this film so very much, and even though critics have given it a poor rating, I still recommend it as a cozy film to watch with a bit of magic.

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Have you seen Inkheart?  How do you feel it holds up to the book?  Do you think it’s a film worth seeing?  Let me know in the comments!

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One response to “Book vs. Movie: Inkheart (2008) (SPOILERS!)

  1. Oooh, I don’t know… I never saw the movie. I was a fan of the book before it came out and I think, perhaps, the trailer disappointed me or I heard too many negative things, so I stayed away. While the casting does theoretically sound stellar (especially Brendan Fraser as Mo), the character designs are so different from what I imagined that I think that put me off the film as well. There are a few points you’ve made here that have made me reconsider my stance on watching the film, but I think I will keep my ‘book imagination’ clear of interference and leave the film unwatched. I do want to check out the soundtrack now, at least!

    Jenna @ Falling Letters recently posted: March 2021 Month In Review